reality

As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own. [Margaret Mead]

As I have been sent out into other cultures over the last fourteen years, there was a time that I proudly posted this quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead. I would go outside the United States borders, dip my toe into other cultures, fall in love with those cultures in a short amount of time and then return to the comfort of my base culture. Drinkable water from a faucet instead from a bottle, running water instead of the pump down the street, eclectic food instead of the same thing every day, laundry from a washing machine instead of hand washing it and toilet paper that went in toilets instead of trash cans. I even had a pre-trip meal plan and a post-trip meal plan dependent on where I was traveling at the time.

I would return stateside, and I most assuredly appreciated my base culture. But after a year and half of living outside those borders, now I find I am struggling with the ideals and reality of my base culture.

This will be ironic to some, since Haiti is so drastically different than the states. Reality in this majority world country is full of struggles under an incredibly high unemployment rate that leads families to strip themselves of their God-given dignity when they run out of options and give their child to the care of a children’s home providing clothes, health care, meals, clean water and education. There are a myriad of other issues with government accountability, infrastructure, clean water, health care and interference from well meaning people who are trying to do good but only hurt the populace more.

It is hard to put into words how God is molding me down here. I know I am being transformed spiritually, physically and emotionally. I am not a ‘super-Christian’ or a ‘better person’ for living here. Living here is a gift I gratefully accept. All I can really say to people is come and see, because it is not what you expect when you choose to really see past the surface. Haiti has changed the way I look at the world as I choose to see beyond their imposed stereotypes.

Haitians are not defined by trash. Decades of cultural acceptance is not going to be reversed by one visitor collecting trash. It is a cultural mindset, and that takes generations to reverse.

Haitians are not defined by their politics. Are some Haitians? Yes. As in all cultures there are good and bad politicians, as well as people who are consumed by it. Realistically, most Haitians do not feel the impact of the current political craziness. Do they want government? Yes, in most cases. But in Haiti, being a politician is a job, and some people will do a lot of bad things to gain a job…or keep it.

Haitians are not defined by rubble. The earthquake five years ago was tragic, a lot of people lost their lives, and more needs to be done, but most Haitians have a hard time talking about that painful memory. For some, telling the same story over and over again is not bringing healing, but reopening a gaping wound every time. Also, a half built building is not rubble. Buildings are always in progress in majority world countries, because people build with what money they have on hand. If they have money for a load of bricks, they build with those bricks and then save up for the next batch to build more.

Haitians are not defined by their country’s impoverished nation status. Do families struggle here? Absolutely. Does that struggle impact their daily life? Absolutely. But it does not define who God has created them to be. They are whole humans, created by God, with a purpose and calling. Poverty does not make them a lesser human than someone born into a wealthy country’s resources.

Haitians are not defined by donations. They do want sustainable, living wage incomes. The guilt from outsiders at ‘having so much’ verses what Haitians have, plus the ‘they are so happy’ mentality, does not create a strong economy. However, your sustainable purchased from businesses that are creating jobs here does help their economy. Haiti started exporting bananas again for the first time since 1955 last week. This is a monumental step for the families of those workers. Haitians are hard workers, but need support in creating a strong economy to give sustainable jobs to all. They want an education, but lack the resources to pay for it. Well-meaning donations that flood Haiti have typically taken away jobs…not create them.

Most Haitians ARE defined by their salvation in Jesus. Happiness comes from looking beyond this world into the one God will restore, making all things new. Worshipping and praying with them floods my soul with joy, hope and leads me deeper in relationship with my Lord. Realistically, we should all be defined by our salvation in Jesus. So, then, why do we stifle it?

IMG_0965I don’t stand on a soapbox with these observations as an entitled American who wants to push my thoughts, habits and perceptions on this culture. The reverse, actually, I am struggling most with my base culture as I learn more about the one I am placed within.

I am struggling with the culture of the United States. I don’t like it, and frankly, it feels like Disneyworld when I travel from Haiti. Are there things I enjoy and crave from the States? Of course, but mostly it seems bright and sparkly…and lacking community. It makes me question which place is real and which is not. The stateside mentality is all about speed, and more often than not it feels fake. In Russia’s tourist areas they put up pretty facades in front buildings they are renovating, so no one sees the actual construction. As if the construction would be an assault on our eyes. Not discounting pretty things, but I feel like we do this too often in our own lives. We put up facades on what we are struggling with, whereas others could learn from how God is leading us through our struggle.

Maybe that is why I feel led to vomit in this space by tossing my struggle out.

I honestly thought my worldview couldn’t be busted open more. I’ve been present and seen the realities of a lot of places over fourteen years. I’ve experienced a lot of cultures and have thousands of stories. I have a lot of international friends who have taught me so, so much. But what I have realized most is that I have so much to learn from other cultures.

This week, I thought of that Margaret Mead quote, and sadly, I am ashamed I put so much arrogance in it being true. We should not be motivated to leave ‘home,’ wherever that may be, simply so we love our base culture more. Some could argue I am scrutinizing too steadily and not loving my base culture enough, but we should be motivated to step outside our borders in an effort to dissolve borders between nations and learn about other cultures. Jesus follower or not, every single human should experience other cultures, and not to force our base culture on others. Democracy is not for everyone, and Coke and McDonald’s is not the unifier they appear to be.

For believers, you should be inspired to step outside your borders to meet believers from different cultures. I assure you, worshipping as one body of believers will rock you to your soul and your Kingdom perspective will be busted wide open.

As I struggle with what version of reality is real, what I do know is it is not about being the same…it is about embracing the differences and learning from each other. It’s amazing how God opens our eyes when our posture is genuine curiosity and building relationships.

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poor

Poor.

Perspective.

These two words cannot ever be too far from each other when judging the economy of a country or culture. Emphasis on the word ‘judging.’

Disclaimer: these opinions have nothing to do with actual numbers. I suck at numbers and honestly do not understand them.

However, in the states, I think we too quickly jump to harsh conclusions about poverty. The poor are in your neighborhood, and they are outside of the borders of your country. Frankly, you have no idea what the poor look like at all. Poor is also relative to a lot of things, most of which being the perspective of where you grew up and the cultural misgivings you may have based on location and economy of that location.

“They don’t have stuffed animals! We must get some in the next container going to [insert majority world country here].”

“They still have a flip phone?!?! They must not have enough money for [iPhone or Glaxay latest models fit here].”

“They eat beans and rice all of the time, because they can’t afford anything else. We should send down some [insert American processed food item here].”

“This house we are building in [insert majority world country here] is not the best way and it has to have indoor plumbing, we should [insert American idea of building here].”

“This school is not being run effectively and it should be torn down and rebuilt. How can kids learn in this environment? We should [insert American idea of what school should be here].”

“The kids are not wearing shoes! How can they not have shoes?”

What each of these lacks is perspective on who and how people are poor in this world. Should every person in the world have a basic human right to clean water, clothes, housing, education, food, medical care and employment? Absolutely. However, the version we commonly convince ourselves of in the states has a different perspective on how each of those seven elements are addressed.

A culture with families that put food, education and housing ahead of toys for their children for hundreds of years does not make them poor. Truly, having toys that are going to mold and be continually dirty in their living environment is not realistic, and it most certainly does not make a parent bad at being a parent, quite the opposite. As well as, in Haiti their children love to play outdoors and have killer soccer skills. Seriously, these kids are soccer ninjas. We need to also consider what gifting a toy to a child looks like from the perspective of a parent in the majority world. Is it worth it to take away their dignity by providing something to their child that they have not provided or have lived without? With perspective we start seeing the incredible value in making the parent a hero in the mind of the child, not the visiting American who is only present for a small amount of time.

In the states, we consistently have different choices of food. I run up against issues with this living in Haiti. I crave Chinese and Mexican food ALL the time, and that is WITH having an ‘American staff’ menu when teams are not here. It does not make someone poor because they like eating rice and beans, or spaghetti for breakfast. It we apply a bit of perspective, we might actually ask the residents of that country if they would eat anything else if it was available. If they are anything like the Haitians I hang out with, they really DO love rice and beans…ALL the time.

In regards to housing, we can easily judge poverty by how a culture lives. I once heard a story of a group that wanted to provide better housing, so they raised the money and built an entire community of homes. There was a lot of pride put into that accomplished endeavor. A couple of years later, they came back and found that the community was basically using the homes as barns for their animals. They had placed the front door facing the wrong direction, and their culture believes that a door should be facing a certain direction for good karma. Perspective on the poor can be made clearer when asking genuine, truth seeking questions and actually listening. Living in a mud hut doesn’t make you poor when the entire culture lives in mud huts…it actually makes it normal in their perspective.

And while we have a constant need for more shoes to fulfill requests from our pastors, the kids have shoes; they just don’t like wearing them all the time to the point that some of the boys like playing soccer barefoot. Sometimes we place judgments on cursory surface observations without asking questions, when we do ask those questions and dig a bit deeper we find that a judgment on their poverty based on what we physically see may be a bit off.

“Jesus was at Bethany, a guest of Simon the Leper. While he was eating dinner, a woman came up carrying a bottle of very expensive perfume. Opening the bottle, she poured it on his head. Some of the guests became furious among themselves. ‘That’s criminal! A sheer waste! This perfume could have been sold for well over a year’s wages and handed out to the poor.’ They swelled up in anger, nearly bursting with indignation over her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why are you giving her a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives. Whenever you feel like it, you can do something for them…’” [Mark 14:3-8 MSG]

In Haiti, a lot of visitors easily see the surface as ‘poor.’ Does Haiti have a lot of poor? Yes. But. Haiti has a lot of issues that pour into that and fixing one aspect of their poverty does not fix all aspects, and in some cases makes another aspect even worse. Based on American ideals, consider that the person who gets labeled as poor on the street does not have that opinion about themselves, but does know of someone who is worse off. There have been a lot of countries, organizations and people trying to ‘help’ Haiti’s poor for decade after decade. Of course, all done in their ideals and perspectives of what poor is and what is a basic human right. A basic human right does not include putting air conditioning in orphanages and making sure the lawn is the ideal perfection of green. In trying to help, many refuse to look at the perspective of the indigenous people, and most completely toss out letting them be empowered to make those decisions based on their own culture.

Many times I’ve wondered if no majority world citizen ever saw what the states physically looked like, would they still think it was the promised land? We know it’s not, but they’ve been made to think it is. I’ve gotten into this debate with many Haitians. Instead, would they be more content at seeing transformation in their own country?

Obviously, today’s word struck a chord with me. Many may brush it off as, ‘She is the crazy one who chooses to live in Haiti.’ Yes, yes I am. And I LOVE it. The world tries to solve the monetary problem of the poor, but what if the real problem isn’t monetary? Money will always be mismanaged, corrupt and lost in majority world countries. Money is not going to fix poverty. Donating enough rice to put rice growers out of business will also not fix poverty. Not seeing where relief ends and sustainability begins will perpetuate the expectation that everything should be provided, and that definitely does not fix poverty.

Jesus himself says the poor will always be among us and we can work ourselves into the ground trying to fix it, but when the core problem is sin of all kinds on both sides we have a responsibility to see each others’ perspective through a cultural lens and point out value in each other’s cultures. Well, I suppose that even depends on perspective, but I hope you hear a piece of God’s heart within these words as well because reconciling with God and allowing that to transform you will work towards the Kingdom God is building here. And friends, in that kingdom…poverty of all kinds is eradicated.