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.

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.

look

Last Sunday after church, several boys guided us to the new deck area that is open at All In One Family, each grabbing a hand and pulling us along into this mostly unexplored space of new, vast views for these short fellas. They immediately ran to the railing, curious at what made them go there first out of all the spaces to consider, I followed them. Each looked back at me, enthusiastically pointing at something they wanted to show me. Chickens, motos, cars, people on bicycles, the roof across the street going on a new Sunday school space for the kids and the man high in a tree collecting mangos elicited several giggles. There were new views and new aspects of life. There were never before seen angles of the everyday life surrounding them.2.2015 All In One Family

Consider the perspective of the kids…theirs is mostly ground level and, until this new space, hardly ever over the compound wall. They peek out the gate, sometimes ride in a car or bus, but never this bird’s eye view of their world. They can see far and wide. Instead of just seeing the moto drive by the front gate, they see it until it disappears down the long road. They can see out over the valley where Port-au-Price sits and all the way to where Petionville and Delmas can be seen climbing up the mountain. They can see the mountain ranges on both sides of the valley. Their entire worldview expands with just a few more steps carefully taken up to the third floor above their school classrooms. Imaginations ignite. Dreams get busted wide open. Perspectives are changed.

All as we look out in the vast area surrounding our life.

We have all had tunnel vision to a particular goal at some point in our lives. In a lot of areas tunnel vision is not only a healthy way to see, but very beneficial to the cause. There are a lot of churches going from a wide vast view of how to help in the world to a laser, tunnel vision viewpoint in the world. Going all in at one location and honing in on ministry there. I’m not starting that debate, because honestly I fall on both sides depending on how the Holy Spirit is leading a particular community. Following the Holy Spirit has never steered anyone to invest in a life that wasn’t meant to be invested in.

But tunnel vision can be deceiving. Different perspectives can be ignored and missed by focusing so intently on the end goal. Tunnel vision can make us blind in so many different ways, especially when it is not a Holy Spirit led endeavor.

But what if we allowed ourselves the space to engage the pureness and enthusiasm of seeing the vast, wide Kingdom that God is building? God’s Kingdom only knows tunnel vision to one thing, and that is seeing this world restored to its original creation.

What if we allowed ourselves to look out at God’s Kingdom and see something new?

What if enthusiasm for what we see was contagious to those around us?

What if we asked God for the Spirit to lead our eyes to look at the world as he sees it?

What if we really let ourselves look from an upper level view of God’s world? Where would God lead our eyes?

What if we took a cue from the kids and experienced extreme excitement at taking it all in from the third story view?

What would happen if we willingly sought out different perspectives in our daily lives that guide us to observe closely, pray intensely and move as the Spirit leads?

What I do know is that enthusiasm is contagious, and contagious is what draws people deeper into God’s heart for this world. Deeper into God’s Kingdom.

I want the sparkle in my eyes as I look out at the world around me.

I want to point out things that I am excited to show others.

I want to draw people into God’s perspective.

I want to look at this world as the boys were looking at their world last Sunday.

help

So this blogging every day thing for the 40 days of lent was actually 46 days long, who knew. And today I could go with the whole, ‘I am really bad at asking for help…’ blog post, but no. You are getting something else!

This blogging idea emerged when we saw a photo that Rethink Church put out for a photo-a-day during lent to connect Methodists on Instagram. Rethink Church is a part of the United Methodist Church and is a message that challenges not only seekers, but the thinking of the church as a whole. Their goal is ‘to encourage a global spiritual dialogue both within and outside the church.’ And if you’ve been reading our blog posts using the word from each photo-a-day, we’ve definitely been writing on topics that feed those goals.

There are 5 of us that decided to add something to Lent, while some still fasting from other things as well. What any of us will tell you is that this Lent has been one of the most vulnerable, discerning, powerful and completely full of the Holy Spirit. I think we’ve learned more about each other in the process as well, and that is always a good step in the right direction among your community.

One of the most intriguing things that have happened is how many different perspectives we’ve had on the EXACT SAME WORD. Even when we are technically writing on the same perspective, we say it completely different. I’ve had a hard time forcing myself not to read someone else’s before I wrote mine so we preserve our own views.

Shawn Franssens makes me laugh all the time with his witty writing. I love that he is willing to be honest and insightful, yet drawing us to something bigger to challenge us all…as all Pastors should. Some days I even go running, literally running to his office, in excitement about what I saw.

I am enamored with Lindsay Evans and her poetry. She is such a talented writer and sees things in very unique ways. I love her honesty, and of course the hilarious stories about her kids seep through, too. The bottom line is she loves Jesus, but she’s not going to push and judge you if you aren’t quite there yet.

Sometimes, I admit, Brian Swanson’s writing style drives me batty (I don’t think he’s reading anyone else’s blog anymore, so he probably won’t see this)…but there have definitely been days that I love how God is working through his views on scripture. And, you easily see what he is passionate about through his views on the words we’ve blogged on.

Last, but most certainly not least, there is Heather Kostelnick who has grow so much in her sent theology in the last year that every single thing she writes down is a Spirit-filled testament of how God is working in her life. She has a beautiful perspective on what it looks like to integrate mission into your everyday life. You hear her struggles, and you hear her victories as she puts Jesus at the dead center of not only her life, but her family as well. And her enthusiasm is contagious!

For me, it’s been good to the point of giddiness and it’s been bad to the point of I wanted to throw the entire blog out the window. I’ve been in some interesting mental and emotional places while I’ve been blogging for 43 days. Many of the words have forced me into self-examination I didn’t necessarily want, but I am not in the habit of telling God, ‘No!’ The most amazing part is how much I’ve dug into the Bible again. This time for me, not for work, which is a very uncommon act in the last 5 years. I have gotten on a prophet kick that I’m not sure yet where God is going with it, and I have a renewed excitement about what the Bible is saying. A great thing to come out of Lent, right?

Mar. 27 - helpAll this to say, help us! Pomogite! As Shawn reads that one he will definitely raise his fist in the air and say it in the Russian.

Help us to continue to grow. Help us to continue to be challenged. Help us to continue to seek our Savior in different ways.

With the end of Lent, we’ve run out of words and there are so many more that would provide a fantastic opportunity to grow, be challenged and seek Jesus.

Please comment on this post, or reply on one of our Facebook links to help us to set up a word for each month that we will all write again on the same word…but with five different perspectives.

Friends, if you are with me to keep blogging a word together, share this on your Facebook page or reblog it on your blog.

This Lenten journey has been amazing, and honestly, I don’t want it to end. I just need a break.

Help us!