A Portrait of Strength
By robb paul
December 29, 2011
i am. strength. i am. endurance. i am. thankful.
Today I have a job. Today I am bringing home money to my family. Today my family will eat. These bricks aren’t light but they don’t weigh anything compared to the load I carry daily. How am I going to feed my family tomorrow if they don’t ask me back? How will I pay for my children to get an education? Will my son do better in life than I did? I will be thankful for today. I will work hard so they do ask me to come back tomorrow. I will keep going, step after step, stair after stair.
i am. strength. i am. endurance. i am. Thankful.
This was my favorite shot from the trip. At first I thought I missed it. At first I thought he made it by, but at the last second he turned and looked down the stairs right into my lens. This man and the few others tirelessly carried load after load of bricks up to the third story of the boys’ orphanage being built in Itarsi, India, for the House of Hope and Central India outreach. The whole time I was there I never saw them stop or take a break. They just worked. It seemed endless. I watched in fascination as they continued to haul the bricks. I don’t think I could have lasted 30 minutes. They lasted hours.
I took this trip to serve a friend of mine. He was invited to speak at the annual Youth Conference put on by the House of Hope. I was so excited! This was my first time really traveling international. I knew God was going to do amazing things in the lives of the young people who were going to attend. I had no clue of the things he was going to do in my own life.
I was so inspired by their work ethic. They work 10 times harder than I do and don’t complain. I complain all the time. I got a massage at the airport that cost more than they make in a month. They have probably never had a massage. They work sun up to sun down. I am running out the door of my office at 5:01 p.m. They work seven days a week. I have the weekends off. They do what they are told without question and do it the first time. I always try to find the easier way. All my needs are met, I eat good food, I sleep in a comfortable bed. I have a job that sustains my lifestyle. This man and the others go without food all day at least one day a week, they sleep on a dirt floor or bug-infested straw mattress, they don’t have a lifestyle, or even know what one is. They work to eat and to keep a roof over their head. Everything else is secondary and doesn’t matter.
“I got a massage at the airport that cost more than they make in a month. They have probably never had a massage.”
We can learn a lot from men like this. If I took the opportunity I have in the great country and combined it with their work ethic, I could single-handedly change the world (with God’s direction, of course). Even as I type this I ask myself, “Why don’t I?”
God hit me in the gut with people. People are what matters. It doesn’t matter where we are or what things we have. People are still being beaten and killed because they are Christians. There are still underground churches across the globe to avoid persecution. I am very fortunate to have what I have and live the way I live. Seeing people outside my normal context makes me appreciate the blessings that I have all the more. Seeing these people really shows me how much God loves the hurting and the wounded, the poverty stricken and the diseased. He doesn’t wish any of them to perish. It also showed me that in any situation His grace really is sufficient. His mercy is everlasting and He does make your burdens light.
People aren’t always pretty or appealing on the exterior, but everyone has a story and they are all fascinating. I once heard a man tell an audience he only needed to read the last page of a person’s story because it told how it all ended. I’m pretty sure that’s the most disheartening thing I have ever heard. I don’t want to hear how it ended for someone—I want to know about the stories in the middle, the triumphs, the tragedies, the successes, the failures. The people I met in India have fantastic stories. As I took their portraits I felt an overwhelming urge to tell their stories. I seek to tell the stories of the ordinary, the forgotten, the overlooked, the people most of us want to forget about. I want to be their voice.
I was overwhelmed by the joy in the poverty. I was overwhelmed by the strength emitted by the laborers as they hauled the bricks. I was overwhelmed by the sorrow on the faces of the people who didn’t know God. I was overwhelmed by the worship of a people who can be and are killed for their faith. There is a Christianity that is alive today in other countries that we can’t even comprehend until we see it.
As I look back at the portrait of the man with the weight of the bricks on his head, neck and shoulders, I am comforted to know he is providing for his family and that makes his burden light. I don’t know if he knows Jesus or not, but I can only hope the seeds I planted and the seeds planted daily by the people around the House of Hope will show him that light and make his burden lighter. It’s hard not to compare his life to mine and I wonder, “Do I have his strength, his endurance, his thankfulness?”
Robb Paul is a freelance photographer, blogger and photojournalist, who is committed to developing dreamers, visionaries and creators. Robb is a husband, daddy and a doodler on whiteboards. He believes that no dream or vision is too big for God. You can follow him on Twitter @robbpaul or on his blogs RobbPaul.com and iamstatements.com.