I wrote this in November, but I’ve been wrestling with whether or not to post it because I’m always so afraid to offend. But I’m now reading a book called Relentless Hope and the author says “Honesty creates connection” and what I want more than anything is that you can be connected to the kids through this blog. A friend of mine also suggested I publish this as a sort of New Year’s challenge. I like that. So here goes…
I was reading a book called Hope Lives. (Good, not great, book.) I wish that I could read things and just think “Oh, how nice.” Instead, I was reading it and feeling incredibly cynical. She’s talking about downward mobility, learning from the poor, and finding joy regardless of stuff. I support all of these things. And then she tells a story about visiting a woman in a Kenyan slum who has received a loan for a small shoe repair business from Compassion. She talks about how ‘happy’ the woman is to be able to show the white people her business and her house. The woman lives in a small, pieced together shack. She has plastic covering the one window in her house. She told the white people her dreams are ‘to get a window and for her boy to become a pastor.’ And the author says ‘those were her greatest desires.’
The author goes on to say that this woman, and people like her are ‘God’s delight…and you could see it in her eyes. She knew she was a valued child of God.’ Really? I mean, REALLY??? Maybe Honduras just has a more violent culture, but what I’ve experienced is that many of the people who live in slums like this live in fear and are often victimized. They talk about their things being stolen as often as the trash man picks up our trash. That piece of plastic over this single mothers’ window means that anyone can crawl in and out at any time with or without her permission. And the joy in her face? I hate that I’m making it seem as though it’s not possible for her to be joyful, but there’s a level of “it’s important to be a good hostess” in every culture. And you don’t host with a scowl on your face.
Then she talks about their walk out of the slum. She said that the Pastor that was their guide started to sing a call and response song in which he’d say “Are you happy?” and the children would say “Yes, we’re happy!” Then she said, “Those children, that pastor, that mother were rich in faith… and I wanted to be like them.” When I reread it as I was writing this I noticed that she made it clear that the children knew this pastor. Relationships do bring joy, so maybe this interaction was authentic. But children in the slums are no safer than the single mothers. I have been amazed how happy kids can be despite their awful circumstances, but this is evidence of the amazing strength of children more than it automatically being evidence of their faith. It’s a call and response song. If he had sung ‘I’m going to break the world record in log rolling’ the kids would’ve sung “And we’re going with you!’ if that was the next line.
After wrestling with my strong response a little more I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m having such a strong reaction to this because it tries to make it so simplistic. And this is not simple. And this is a typical response. ‘They’re so happy!’ ‘Their faith is so strong!’ Why do we do that? Why do we have to make sure that everything is neatly wrapped with a nice bow on top before we walk away? And I guess that’s it. It’s because usually we do walk away, and if we can make ourselves feel ok about it, it won’t keep us up at night.
Getting to know the poor, learning how to fight injustice, and learning, really learning, the injustices that are occurring take time, commitment and asking tons of questions. Think about it. Did you know your spouse after the first date? Did you earn your degree after one class? Did you gain your promotion after one day of work? Of course not. Why would learning about poverty, or another culture be any different? I’m not saying that in order to make a difference you need to quit your job, move to another country and immerse yourself. I’m just asking you to allow yourself to go deeper. I’m asking you to let yourself be uncomfortable with the things you’ve seen or learned. Leave it unwrapped so you can go back and study it as often as you are moved to do. I hope that you can think of this (‘this’ being a trip to Honduras, Africa, Russia, the projects in your city, a blog, a newspaper article – whatever brings you closer to injustice) think of this as a journey instead of as story that must quickly be resolved.
I leave you with a little example. I’ve talked a few times about my mother-in-law’s trip to Nueva Esperanza (the government home). It was hard and she saw things the kids are experiencing that she really didn’t like. She still says that she doesn’t think she’ll be able to ever go back. And even though it’s been a year and a half since that trip, it still makes her uncomfortable. But she has refused to tie a nice bow on it and walk away. This has led her to a year and a half of asking many questions so she can understand more. And a year and a half of telling people about her experience and then pointing them in my direction to help. She’s not moving down there. She’s hasn’t figured out a way to solve it. I’m sure it would be more comfortable if she could just forget about it. But she’s become an advocate. A prayer warrior. And she’s not walking away.
Will you go deeper with me?