Comfort, o comfort my people.
What does it mean to be comfortable? We’re on another flight this afternoon, this time returning from Cebu to Manila, and in preparing for takeoff were invited to be comfortable. So what does that mean to different people in different contexts?
One of the ways we’ve experienced comfort today has been to visit the “comfort room” or CR- the polite term for the toilet. Our first field visit today required a 90-minute drive (quite bumpy and swerving), during which the diuretic benefits of last night’s turmeric-mango juice kicked in. Our attempt to utilize some space (and banana leaf coverage) behind a small store resulted in our being welcomed to the home CR of the proprietor (across the street). The lady would not even accept our offer of payment. This expression of hospitality brought us comfort- both emotionally ad physically!
We continued to a small fishing community that works with the support of the Cebu Relief as Rehabilitation Centre. This Community has organized to benefit all 32 families, who share 2 fishing boats on a 3-day rotation schedule. Depending on the seasonal catch and the day, they can sometimes catch as much as 100kg or as little as 2kg of fish. In addition, the community takes part in disaster preparedness trainings, where even the children are taught how to respond to earthquake, storm, and tsunami disasters. Once in the community we were shown the boats, and the children laughed to see a tall white woman just walk into the spring-fed river. We then gathered at the home of one of the founders (and present treasurer) of the People’s Organisation, to hear of their concerns (land ownership issues), needs (a stable seawall to protect their homes), and their successes (engaging creative ways to grow vegetables despite minimal land and low-quality soil). The houses are tiny structures, the benches hard, but the welcome delightfully comfortable.
Another visit to the CR and we began the return trip to Cebu City. There we had a very short meeting with the staff of VIMROD, an HIV/AIDS programme addressing the urban poor. This programme engages licensed commercial sex workers (CSWs) through city-funded health clinics, men having sex with men (MSMs) through community contacts, inter-venous drug users (IVDs) through informal connections, and is aiming to connect with freelance CSWs to promote regular health check-ups and provide support and education. The conversations are not necessarily comfortable within the Canadian understanding of polite conversation, but they are directly addressing a challenging situation in an effort to bring long-term comfort to vulnerable populations.
And so, these visits and meetings today identify the reality that development work is not always comfortable. But then again, neither is being a Christian- following Christ means meeting people in their reality and journeying with them through their experiences. It means that sometimes we are pushed outside of our comfort zones in order to do the loving thing. It means that sometimes our personal comfort needs to be put on hold or somewhat minimized so that our actions can provide a modicum of comfort for someone else. It means that sometimes we need to re-evaluate what it means to be comfortable, to be comforted, to be comforting. Being a Christian means recognizing that comfort is not a polite euphemism for a room or a description of an airplane seat position, but a call to solidarity and compassion as we live out our baptismal vow to seek and serve Christ in all persons.
I pray we all know some comfort today.