Monday, August 29, 2011

When Helping Hurts

Have you ever tried to help someone and in the end the help that you tried to offer not only hurt them but you in the process? Well that’s the premise of this book I recently read, "When Helping Hurts". However the main subjects are the materially poor and Us, the haves.

The book forces one to ask the question: How can I serve the materially poor without further exacerbating their struggles?

It is a must read if you’re in the least bit interested in figuring out how to alleviate poverty and want, like the pageant contestants’ most infamous answer, “world peace”. The book starts off by asking a simple yet profound question: “why did Jesus come to earth?” The authors answer the question by saying “Jesus came to preach the good news of the kingdom and to show the good news of the Kingdom!” This question and answer was a great set up that would be weaved throughout the entire book as we are called to do as Christ and preach the message of healing and restoration but to not only stop with the words but also in deeds, just as Christ did! You can't have one without the other!

The second part of the book redefines poverty. The authors say: "Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings." In other words, poverty is rooted in broken relationships with God, self, others and creation. Here's the added kick, if poverty is rooted in brokenness then "who are the poor?" the book asks. The answer is simple: we all are!

Here's the main point of the book: we must all embrace our mutual brokenness or poverty and Repent of our own brokenness. "One of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich-their god complexes and the poverty of being of the economically poor-their feelings of inferiority and shame". Our work amongst the materially poor often communicates we are superior and they are inferior. We must realize that we are not God ready to save a dying world but we are conduits that God has chosen to use to bless each other. The more involved I become in Mission's work, the more I come to realize outside of God there is no restoration for the materially poor.

The book then led us to what our focus ought to be when fighting poverty; it says Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation, where we are moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others and with the rest of creation. Moreover, material poverty Alleviation is working to reconcile the four foundational relationships (God, self, others and creation) so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work! Yes!!! When we are able to use our God given skills and talents, it brings glory to God.
The book does a great job looking at the issues with humanitarian efforts from the global and local point of views. It not only looked at the problems but also proposed some answers and examples. One of the challenges you will have when you read the book is that answers will not be sufficient and you will be frustrated trying to apply a one size fits all method for the magnitude of the issue of helping the materially poor.

The main take away for me is learning to breathe dignity into every soul that we come in contact with as we’re trying to help them. The most common thread in everyone who finds themselves materially poor is shame. They carry a tremendous amount of shame and worthlessness. As we are looking to help feed the poor and provide clean water to drink, let’s start by giving them the most precious gift of all DIGNITY and a sense of WORTHINESS. These souls are not helpless, filthy, inept or unaware; they are souls in need of someone seeing them beyond the shell and to pour life back into them.

Finally, a book about the materially poor that speaks the language of moving people from being dependent on foreign aid to dependence on God and their God given skills, talents and assets. It has put into words a number of uncomfortable issues that I’ve been grappling with for a number of years. It has confirmed many strategies I’ve believed were bad practices when working with the materially poor, some of which I have committed. Now this book has given me language to continue to fight for the dignity and empowerment of the materially poor.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's My Birthday and I RULE!!!!

I know the title might force you to make a couple of assumptions. Maybe you're thinking “uh oh this is one of those blogs where this woman is using positive self talk to make herself feel good about her messed up life”. Or perhaps you may also be thinking “she drank too many cups of the pride cool-aid”. Well it’s neither one of those assumptions. But it is my birthday and I want to reflect on my being.
I want to draw your attention on a bible verse that I've found fascinating, Genesis 1:26 "Then God said “Let us make mankind in our image in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground". My fascination over this verse is partly because I don't fully understand it but I also find it captivating over its potential meaning for my life.

My misunderstanding comes from the fact that God is spirit and I'm a physical being and I can't fathom what of God is in me that makes me his image bearer or like him. Simple.

Now let's move on to the intriguing excitement over this phrase: of all of the things that God has created, humans were the only ones he said was created in His image, His likeness. He looked at the tree, nope not so much...he looked at water, unh unh...He looked at the dinosaurs, absolutely not!

But when he came to me, yes me and you too, he stopped and said I will make them like Me. So let's dream a little; what exactly about me is like God? Do I laugh like God? Do I cry like God? Do I create like God? Do I speak like God? Do I love like him? Do I walk and run like him? Do I think like him? Am I free to roam the earth like he?

I really don’t know but the verse above alludes to how we are like God. I, like God, was made to RULE!!!!! What an honor to possess the ability to rule like God, like my Father. I don’t know about you but on this birthday of mine, it makes a girl pretty darn proud to know that I was commissioned by God before the world began to RULE! This isn’t a theory I came up with to make myself feel good but this is something that God has given me permission to do; to stand beside him and RULE. Chew on this for a minute!

I know you may have a many questions about this Rule-ship thing and I do too; the imperfection of man, the irresponsible rulers etc. But those questions don’t negate our standing position to RULE like God.

So on this birthday, I reflect on my being and the honor it is to RULE! I don’t think we were only called to rule over plants and animals but alongside God over our lives, over our circumstances, over our attitudes, over how well we love, over our response to life’s tragedies and even over our destinies. It’s my birthday and I’m proud to shout “I RULE”!!!!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The prayers of Haiti Children

If I were to look into your life of prayer, what would be the gist of your prayers? Think about it…when you pray, what do you most frequently ask about?

During this past trip to Haiti, one of the many lessons we taught the children was that God listened to them. The group leading this activity suggested for the children to write down their prayer requests on sticky notes and our team would pray for every last one of them.

Upon returning home, I translated these requests and was immediately struck by a number of things. For one thing, these children understood the lesson and took the activity very seriously. Their prayer requests were not of trivial things, well most of them. We did have a couple silly boys asking God for a cute young girl they saw in camp.

However, the majority of them had serious needs they wanted God to act on. Their prayers fittingly reflected their living conditions. An overwhelming number of them asked God for intelligence to finish school. “God I ask you for strength, courage, health and intelligence to learn in school”.

The other group of requests were about their performance in school. There seem to be a stigma with staying back in school, many of them asked: “God help me to never repeat a grade…”. I wondered why the stigma exists but I think there may be a number of things at play. The first issue is: the majority of the schools in Haiti are private. Many parents have a very difficult time making school payments and they want to make sure their children make the best of their education and that means you cannot afford to repeat a grade. The other issue is: students in Haiti find their self worth and confidence through education. In school they can prove themselves to be worthy. And lastly, education is seen as a way to get out of poverty. Many of the students would say in their prayer requests: God help me get an education to be a doctor or engineer to help my family and my country.

The last big need on these children’s prayer requests were for health. Again this request makes complete sense; these children see sickness and death everyday of their lives. The life expectancy in Haiti is 61 compared to the US 78. There is an overwhelming need for proper medical care, doctors and hospitals to care for the needs that exist in Haiti. And the children’s prayer requests reflect that.
I was shocked to learn so much about the condition these children are currently living in through their prayer requests.

Most gracious God I pray you specifically for these groups of children in Haiti who made their prayers known to us and most importantly to you. God I pray for their well being; spiritually, physically and emotionally. I pray for their education that you may provide for them, not only for them to be smart and get out of poverty but that everything they learn may point them to you. I pray to you for their health and the health of their loved ones. Would you please provide healing where it’s needed? We know that you can do all things and all things are possible through you. In Jesus name I pray for your precious children. Amen!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Not Diamonds or Gold But an Education!

If you've been keeping up with my Haiti journey for the past 2 years or so, you've probably already picked up on my heart and passion for my beloved people. Through my eyes you have probably seen the children I've met and the women and men that continue to inspire me daily. This past journey was no different.

On every trip, I become acquainted with a number of new faces; men, women and children and I always take one with me. Not literally of course but the face, eyes and smile or sadness of one always stand out. And again this trip was no different.

He told me his name was Ary J. I was instantly drawn to him because he had the same name as my best friend's twin brother, who was right next to me when we met. We both looked at each other in disbelief realizing the coincidence that first and last name would be the same outside of the spelling. Ary was not a part of our activities for the week of camp but he showed up to the camp with a buddy of his. Ary began to tell us a little bit about his story, he's one of four children and out of the four his parents were only able to send two of them to school. He was very articulate, he shared with us snippets of all the courses he has taken over the years; French literature, Haitian literature, chemistry, biology etc...I was in awe by how smart this young man was. Ary is 20 years old and he's in the process of completing his comprehensive exams for what is considered the end of senior year in high school. In Haiti, these exams are a big deal, they pretty much determine your future. Much like the SATs but more intense especially for a country with limited opportunities like Haiti.

Towards the end of our conversation, there was sadness and frustration in Ary's voice. The sadness and frustration came from the reality that that’s where the road stopped for him. No really, this is where the road stops for him.

In Haiti without the sufficient financial resources, the highest level of education one can aspire to is 6 grade and if you’re truly lucky a high school degree. A university degree is out of the question for most. Ary was telling me a university degree in Haiti cost approximately $3,000 USD a year.

The other emotion I heard in Ary's voice was desperation. There was an urgency in his voice to tell his story hoping that someone would take him seriously and do something to meet his needs. As he talked to several of us in our group, he did not ask about food, clothes or money for his pockets but help to continue his education. He was not a hustler like his friend John who had a craft to make necklaces and bracelets and sell them. He was very new to this new lifestyle of having nothing to hope for. He was a novice at making life work in the midst of extreme poverty. I tried to exhort Ary by telling him to hold on and pray and I'm often good at inspiring people to hold on and lift their eyes to God but my message to Ary was not penetrating. His need for an education was too dire.

He came back to the camp two other times. When he realized that his dream of receiving help from these American saviors was not attainable, the stonewall look of hopelessness seemed to have covered him immediately. As he spoke still pleading his case, his hands shook and voice quivered. I’ve only seen this look only a handful of times and it breaks my heart every time. That was the look of true poverty; there was no fight for dignity left.

I tell you Ary’s story for two reasons: one is to try to alleviate my own guilt. Guilt for not being able to do something. And guilt for being afraid to do something wondering if that’s the best strategy to help this young man or if he was a fraud. Either way I did not help.

The other reason I tell you this story is in the hopes that you will become more aware of the millions of Ary’s out there and you will be inspired to join the mission and do something!

All week long we had been grappling with the question “what does God expect of us?” We were sitting with that question as if we didn’t know what God was calling us to: to loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free…to share our food with the hungry, to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe them… Isaiah 58:6-7
Well Friends, our Mission is Clear!