This entry is Part I of the Pieces of Cane series we recently introduced where we share what we have learned and are learning from our experiences serving in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and inner city of Louisville, Ky.
Serving with Christian brothers and sisters living in a 3rd world context as a North American Christian can really awaken you to perspectives and realities that may otherwise be unavailable. That’s certainly true of mine and Vicki’s experience. The discrepancy between the two cultures in terms of available resources is the most obvious reality because at first, it’s the most tangible. Water from the utilities is not safe to drink due to no back flow prevention and poor treatment. Safe drinking water is an added cost and less convenient because you have to bring it back to your home 5 gallons at a time. Electricity is unreliable. It makes tasks as simple as doing laundry difficult to complete because it requires having electricity, water in the neighborhood and sun light to dry your laundry all three available at the same time. Add to it the harsher realities of malnourished children both in city slums and rural communities; add to it again the reality of dirt cookies in Haiti. The differences in available resources are stark.
So the first response to the developing world, at least ours was, was to just be grateful. To simply just be thankful for all of the basic things that we learned by exposure were things that we had taken completely for granted. We have shelter. It has running water and a sanitation system. We can drink the water and it doesn’t make us sick. We flush the toilet and the waste is removed from our home, not staying next door in an out-house potentially making us sick. We wear shoes as do our children. We don’t worry about parasites being contracted by walking around bare foot. We have actual food to give to our children. Sometimes… far too often in fact, food gets thrown away and wasted.
And so, in response to all of the needs that we observed that weren’t being met we were faced with the reality that all of our needs had been and continued to be. This experience almost force feeds you a sense of gratitude. Regardless of whether or not we actually did, we realized that we really have nothing at all to complain about in our lives back home. Our first acknowledgement was of how truly blessed we were to have all of our basic needs met.
That is a typical acknowledgement of many that come down and serve in a short-term capacity. We're grateful now to know that camping out on gratitude is not enough if we are Christians. Non-believers easily have the same kind of experience, “We just don’t realize how good we have it back home in the …” We realized that we could be very grateful and still be selfish. We could be very grateful about what “We have” and still make darn sure that we got to keep whatever it was we had and add to it daily. To be a Christ-follower and serve in a context like the Dominican Republic or Haiti or somewhere else and go back home and only be grateful is an unfaithful response to what God has exposed us to. We’ve missed the point. We are not blessed so that we can gorge ourselves on it. We are blessed to be a blessing.
The gratitude needs to take us somewhere. It needs to get us to the place where we ask, “What do we do with all of this blessing? How do we move forward as responsible stewards of it?” For us it started with reflecting on the many ways in which we were blessed. Not surprisingly, that first round of responses recounted many, many material blessings and comforts that we enjoyed, that took up our time and our resources. We live in a culture that is drunk with the accumulation of stuff. We finally came to the place where we were able to ask the following: If all of our basic needs are met and most of our wants are attainable (within reason) where then is the line between blessing and gluttony when I know that there are people in the world living without basic needs being met? How do we know if we’ve crossed over? If our basic needs are met and there’s much left over where is the line between blessedness and wastefulness? When does using the resources available to us to obtain our wants rather than meet someone else’s need become failing to do the good that we know we ought do (James 4:17)? Where is the line? We must confess that we’ve been at this work for 9 years and we still don’t know the answer.
We do know this. Tim Keller is a pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. We heard a sermon he preached once where he asked this simple question: There are only two Kingdoms, God’s and yours. One is coming to fulfillment and the other is going away forever so which Kingdom are you going to use your resources, privilege and power to build? Yours which is fleeting or God’s which is coming?
So one answer to the questions above is rooted in recognizing that nothing is really our own, that we are only stewards and that we must simply put ourselves and everything God has given us at his feet and ask his spirit to lead us. The other answer to the questions above, we believe is simply being committed to the practice of asking them of ourselves on a regular basis and being willing to live in a healthy tension that realizes this an area that we will be growing in for a long, long time. We invite you embrace the same tension.
Grace & Peace,