He balances himself against a crutch, one leg invisible, selling bananas and newspapers in a hectic intersection. He waves and watches for the one who will stop and buy. She sits with a faraway look in her eyes, a teenager hugging the sidewalk with her pillowcase, a sack of her belongings? They play happily in the yard of The Nest, a Salvation Army home for children, frolicking with a soccer ball inside the boundaries of a wired fence. He hangs out on the curb, watching the busy passersby in vehicles or on foot. His gentle smile and piercing eyes shine through the big, scruffy grey beard. He walks with his white cane - almost skipping - finding his way among the pedestrians to his destination. He meanders between the stalled traffic with an outstretched cup, looking lost and alone.
When you take the same daily route to work and walk to the same grocery store in your neighbourhood, you get to see who’s there - living with their limits. We make no judgements and wonder what their stories are. They aren’t only living with limits, they are also living with dreams, possibilities, and potential.
Limits can feel restricting and cause us to ruminate on what is problematic. People who live within and beyond their limits inspire me. They accomplish what seems impossible and find courage to face each day. Morris and I recently commented about the number of people we have seen with limb amputations in Kingston. Then I learned that Jamaica leads the world in the rate of limb amputations due to complications from poorly controlled diabetes or untreated vascular disease. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that by 2025, prevalence rates for diabetes in developing countries will increase by 170 percent from 84 million to 248 million, representing about 70 percent of diabetes worldwide (Jamaica Observer). Staggering figures in places where health care can be limited.
At our last Cabinet meeting, we talked about another kind of ‘living with limits’ – The Salvation Army’s 2020 Christmas campaign and fund-raising efforts. The effect of the pandemic and its restrictions mean we cannot campaign the same way this year. Needs are up, and funds are down. The downturn in tourism has adversely affected the economy in many Caribbean locations. Donors who usually support quite generously are now facing their own limits. Volunteer groups are strained; they are now among the vulnerable. In Belize, an annual event to support 600 children called the Needy Children Christmas Lunch had to be cancelled due to the restriction on public gatherings. Mail appeals in the Bahamas are limited due to postal closures. In French Guiana, they are not allowed to raise funds at all during Christmas. So, what do we do? We adapt.
Like people who face their limits every day with newfound courage, we do whatever it takes to adjust. We keep serving and sharing God’s love because our raison d’etre – our purpose for being – is unchanging. We become creative; we modify and revise plans and accept the things we cannot control. Every Divisional and District leader are pivoting their strategies in the face of the current turmoil. While circumstances are confining and restrictive, they are not full of despair. We partner with other community leaders and agencies. We hear how new media campaigns, radio telethons, and direct appeals to the public are providing hope that The Salvation Army will remain a strong force to keep meeting human needs. By relocating kettles, using vouchers instead of food hampers, increasing our online presence, and extending the number of days to donate, The Army is fine-tuning how to ‘live with our limits’ and overcome what has been hard-hitting for so many. In Belize, an alternative strategy is already underway to reach the children in the new year.
How did Jesus respond amid limitations? He told his followers to accept what is less than perfect (like a few fish and couple bread loaves to feed a crowd) and offer it to Him, and He would do more with the little than they ever thought possible. He reframed the value of those living with limits to be the ones most highly favoured and should be at the top of our festivities guest list: “When you host a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13). He honoured the sacrificial gift of the widow’s coins above offerings from excessive wealth. Limits were not barriers to Jesus.
I never want to diminish the truth that living with limits is not easy. On the compound where we live, there is the Children’s Home for vulnerable orphans (The Nest), the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the Francis Ham Seniors Home for the elderly. People within these groups have limits which are different than the people we see on our way to work – AND unlike limitations others face. It isn’t about putting people in categories, because in truth, we all have limits. Not all internal and external battles will be resolved this side of heaven. I resist offering platitudes that minimize the raw pain of certain situations with no easily solutions, no available healing balm. I acknowledge the arduous circumstances which go beyond even the chaos of a global pandemic. I can say this: I find courage and hope when I see people who live with limits and do not give up. I find stimulus in the example of Jesus. I am challenged with how I respond. And I seek better ways to be part of a corporate answer as a follower of Christ who represents His likeness to the world.
Perhaps it is our limits that bind us.