Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What about them?

So I have to go to the next town over for internet because the internet café in town is down for repairs. There are a bunch of micro-buses that run between the two towns and only cost $.25 each way. The internet is faster here anyway. On this bus ride I see a lot of things that get me thinking about who I am.

I am from the United States of America.

That means that chances are pretty good that I have more stuff than a great majority of the world. The U.S. is very close to a lot of countries that aren´t as materially well off and cannot feed all of their people because of it. That reality became real to me in the fall and there are tons of examples of it here in Nicaragua. What does that mean for me as a Jesus follower?

The wealth divide in Nicaragua is stagering. I don´t know how well words can describe this and a picture would be nice. Maybe later. Back to the bus ride on the way to town. It´s only about a 5 minute ride, but you can see the difficult and not so difficult situations in Nicaragua in those 5 minutes. One thing that creates a pain in my chest every time I see it is a small community of people I see from the road. They live off of the highway about a half kilometer on the side of a mountain in small houses. These houses are made of large sticks pushed into the groung with garbage bags stretched over them to create the walls. The houses are maybe 15 feet square. There are maybe 15 or so of them. I doubt they have water and I have never been very close to them. This is difficult enough to deal with knowing that I just ate a giant plate of rice, beans, and deliciously spiced pork with a tortilla on the side. What makes this even more difficult is seeing the enormous Spanish tile roofed mansion less than 100 feet away from these houses. The divide is painful. That man makes enough money to feed the whole community below him for weeks, but he has a giant fence around his house to keep the desparation of poverty away from him. He keeps himself separated from the difficulty of poverty.

I feel that this is a problem for us Jesus followers. After looking at this scene a few times, the realization hit me that as a citizen of the United States of America, I am the man in the stucco mansion feasting and drinking fine wine while my neighbor goes hungry. Jesus talked about that a lot. Did you know that Managua, Nicaragua is closer to Miami than Chicago is? Haiti is even closer to Miami and the United States and that is the poorest country in this hemisphere. One of my favorite writers today is Shane Claiborne and he said that the problem isn´t that we don´t care for the poor but it´s that we don´t know them. I have spent my life building walls so that I don´t have to encounter the poor. I´m working on breaking down these walls. Purposely separating myself from those that Jesus spent the most time with is something I do not want to do anymore.

One last image from my town before I end and something to think about. I spend most of my days at the town´s Pre-Columbian Art Museum translating and writing proposals. Right accross the street is the town´s baptist church. I´m sure they love Jesus very much and want to follow him. I have no doubt about that. The church was founded by some missionaries from a very Western culture not too long ago. Right next door to the church´s brick wall that closes it off from those on its sides is a very small house with no electricity or water. It is made of sticks and plastic garbage bags. About 7 people live there and none of the children have shoes.

-Joel

5 comments:

Kerry said...

Joel,

I am so glad you left this post and here is why:

Lately i have been hating myself. I have been struggling so hard with the realities of my life and how it is now, and how i want it to be. I find myself drifting farther and farther away from all the promises i made for myself. On the other end i am realizing now that i am out of college how easy we ahd it when we are there and i am feeling the weight of an unjust capitalist society. Rent, gas prices, clothes..i try to be content with what money i make and what i have and what i find myself wanting more and more as i assimilate back into the American way of life. Its hard to find a balance because yes the United States is unjust towards central america, but it hurts even more that it is unjust towards its own people as well.

Does that make any sense? The other day i saw a car drive by, a new lexus. The liscence plate said KIDZ DR. Im guessing he was a pediatrician. I saw his car and then i thought about the struggles millions of people have with even affording health care and i thought, this is the society i live in. I feel like i am so torn with where i am right now. I dont know what to do, if what i have planned for my life next is even worth it. Amigo, please be safe and come back to me. Im afraid you will have had too many experiences for me to be able to relate to you, but i know that you are a true friend and i can't wait to hear more about your journey. Te amo.

Olivia said...

Hey Joel,

You know, I've struggled a lot with thinking about my life here in the U.S. And honestly I don't know the answer to the question of how I'm supposed to live. Yes, America's rich, but we don't know how to reconcile that with a world that's predominantly poor. If we give money, it goes into the wrong hands and is wasted by government officials and if we give a week of our time to go to a country and give food and clothing to people our actions only create more problems because it makes those people dependent on foreign aid. There are no easy answers. I get really frustrated when people blame America's wealth for the world's problems. Without America's wealth, doctors, research centers, schools, economists, and whatever else, those foreign countries would be that much shorter of help for the poor. Capitalism is not the evil here. Yes, it creates problems, but it's an economic force that can't be stopped. We just need to work on figuring out how to help those who fall through the cracks and do our best not to abuse the weak. Capitalism is what even allows us to have the ability to worry about poorer countries because if it weren't for that, we'd be in the same boat as them. Most of the time, people with money have worked hard their whole lives and often give a lot of that money to charity. I have a hard time blaming them for having a nice house. I know North America has exploited Latin America quite a bit in our history, but when have the strong not exploited the weak? Evil exists in every government, and we'll never be rid of it. I think our answer is just to love each individual we come into contact with both here in the States and abroad. Like I said, I don't know what I'll end up doing with my life, but whether I stay here in the U.S. or start an orphanage somewhere halfway across the world, I think the important this is that I just love others and do what I can to help those who are hurting around me. I'm thankful you have the chance to be where you are and that God's challenging you and your American lifestyle (even if I sounded like I defended it, I don't like it, I just don't know how to live here in it).

"Too often our motives smack of paternalism (as do the words: downtrodden, underclass). I, the educated, wealthy American, reach out in compassion to help you improve yourself. We see ourselves as on the side of Christ by giving to the needy. The New Testament makes plain, however, that Jesus is on the side of the poor, and we serve best by elevating the downtrodden to the place of Jesus.
'I see the face of Jesus in disguise,' said Mother Teresa about the dying beggars she would invite into her home in Calcutta--'sometimes a most distressing disguise.' She, like Gandhi, understood that the direction of charity is not condescending, but rather ascending: in serving the weak and the poor, we are privileged to serve God himself." (Soul Survivor)

Olivia said...

P.S. And that is terrible about the church being right next to a family that doesn't have shoes. We have terribly missed the mark and must change.

Anonymous said...

joel,

first of all, i love hearing your stories and reading about what is on your heart.

secondly, i am on the same page as kerry. it's so hard to live in this society and not want, but at the same time it's so hard to see the injustice. how do we deal with it? what are we supposed to do? i feel for you seeing these things every day and struggling incessantly. but i can't wait to see you again and have nice long discussions about this kind of thing. i hope we can see each other soon. miss you!!

love,
amie :)

Olivia said...

Maybe here's how we respond to the injustices we see:

Put the time and money into getting an education and degree that allows you to fight the injustices in this world and to change them instead of just whining about them and complaining about how good we have it here in the U.S.

I have a couple more thoughts and forgive the harshness, I feel very strongly about this:
"I keep hearing feed the poor, clothe the hungry, give shelter to those who don't have it. The bozos that say this don't recognize that capitalism and technology have done more to feed and clothe and shelter and heal people than all the charity and church programs in history. So they preach about it, and we are the ones doing it. They want to rob Peter to pay Paul, but they always forget that Peter is the one that is creating the wealth in the first place." (T.J. Rodgers)

"At the end of his discussion D'Souza--himself an immigrant from a poor nation--offers one last bit of wisdom to intellectuals in the West. He counsels that their alarm over affluence seems to many people on the outside almost comical, like strangely thankless whining:
'At a time when people in poor countries are trying desperately to better their condition, you cannot lecture them about the moral and social perils of affluence; they would surely think you were joking. It's not that they would disagree with you; they simply wouldn't know what you were talking about.'
Do Western thinkers truly mean to imply that the poor are really better off in conditions of non-affluence? For those seeking liberation from poverty for themselves and for their people, that indeed seems a strange and self-defeating premise to adopt." (The Good of Affluence)

The vast majority of Americans aren't Christians in the first place. How else should they spend their money but on themselves?

Instead of calling on America to change, we should be calling on ourselves and the Christians in this nation to change. After all, we are the ones who have grown up in such a blessed society AND we know the truth of Christ's gospel which gives us the call to live for something higher than ourselves.

So, let's work with this wealth that we have to get ourselves to a place in life where we have the ability, knowledge, and experience to help the poor both here and in other countries. Instead of laying in our beds complaining to God that He has given us too much, let's invest what He's given us so that we can help others instead of just talk about it.