One of the men pictured above is Sebyen. Sebyen wasn’t expected to really go very far in life. He is fully functional, but mentally slow. There is no specialized help for people with mental disabilities out where we live, so most of them are cared for by their families, but also generally laughed at and written off.
Manis had compassion on Sebyen, and decided to give him some yard jobs. He turned out to be a hard worker. Over time, he became part of a small group of men who do a lot of landscaping-type work. The change in him has been amazing to see. His speech is much clearer and he interacts with people better. His family has noticed that he is more responsive at home. He loves to work hard and is an equal member of the landscaping crew. He has a sense of personal dignity.
Lemuel’s namesake verses are Proverbs 31:8-9:
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
This is what we do in a general way for our community. It is also what we do in a specific way for individuals and families cast aside by society…
Mo is another man on the landscaping crew. He had the reputation of being one of the laziest men in the community. Nobody took him seriously as a worker. Out of the blue, he started showing up for small odd jobs. Once, when he got paid, he held up the money and said, “You see this? This is to pay my kids’ school.”
One day, he said to Manis, “I want to get serious about my life. You know, everyone says I’m lazy. But the truth is, people will hire me for a job, and I will work hard and then have nothing to show for it. I don’t even have value in my own family. My wife is able to scrape by with a small business, but I have nothing to give.”
As he continued to demonstrate perseverance and a desire to work hard, Mo was given a regular job with better pay. Now he proudly talks about being able to build a better home for his family. His wife has more respect for him as he takes more responsibility for the household. When we recently took down an old wooden fence, he asked if he could have the wood to build barriers to protect trees from animals. “Everyone else is planting trees,” he said, “I want to plant trees too.” This morning, I heard him gathering up the wood before the sun rose to carry off to his house before he had to be at work.
As the men work, Manis will often take small opportunities to share Truth with them as well. Recently, while encouraging them under the hot sun, he said to them, “Look, we all grew up in voodoo. And what did Satan offer in the end? Ignorance. Poverty. But with Jesus, it is not the same. Think about what I’ve said.”
“You know,” said one of the younger guys, “I have been doing a lot of thinking lately.”
“Me too,” said Mo, “I have been thinking about it a lot.”
Our small community is roughly divided into even smaller sections, often by family groups. Across the road and down the hill live a group of women–mothers, sisters, daughters. These women are not esteemed very highly by most people. They don’t have the best reputation, and they struggle to support their families. Manis noticed their situation and gave them a job collecting gravel for the school. When he saw how eager they were for their small job, he gave them another job clearing weeds and scrub brush in the Lemuel Garden.
“Do you know, ladies, that you have value?” he asked them one day.
This is our heart. To speak out for the outcast. To give someone a chance. To watch a person change and grow and have hope. To see someone begin to understand the truth about God. In the midst of all we do, this definition of “Investing in People” is the one that really feeds our souls and inspires us to keep going.