I recently returned from a brief trip to Vicente Guerrero, Baja. I’m writing this post to recap a couple quick reflections and process one big lesson. Traveling with a group from my home church in the Bay Area, we worked at a local mission who runs a school, clinic, surgery center, orphanage, church, soup kitchen, orchard, farm, paramedic distribution center, and rehab. It was a blessed time. During the day we worked in the fields picking weeds and tilling the soil. At night we reached out to the community by giving food, supplies, and encouragement. Here are a few thoughts on the week.
Watching people grow is friggin awesome. The biggest factor contributing to my participation in this trip was the opportunity to go with one of the kids from STUFF who had been in my small group for the past few years. Watching this young man grow, be challenged, wrestle with the poverty/wealth discrepancy, and try and see God in the midst of it all not only filled me with pride, but convicted me as well.
I felt out of sync. Maybe it was because this was the first time I was away from my wife in this early infancy of our union, maybe it was my unfamiliarity with the language and culture, or maybe it was my ego that wasn’t used to being a follower, but I felt out of sync. Sometimes feeling out of sync or uncomfortable is a good thing, it makes us see things inside of us we don’t normally see.
When it comes to hiding our issues Americans win. As Americans we often think of people from other places as different and often less fortunate. But what if we were actually the same, and the difference is in how visible our desperation actually is? In America we love making ourselves as presentable as possible. Our glamorous and vein philanthropy easily notices the speck in our neighbors eyes all the while overlooking the plank in our own. You see, we’ve covered our plank up with make up, smiles, and slogans. We look around at everyone else living just like us and we assume that we’re doing alright, when the truth is we’re hurting. Mother Teresa, after years working with some of the most impoverished people in the world while in Calcutta, said: “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved”. Her words break the commonly held paradigm that poverty is over there, in the third world, or in the urban center. While surely, there is urgent truth to desperation of hunger, homelessness, and famine, if we only see the unbathed and unfed as the ones in need we’re only seeing part of the picture. On my first day being back I found myself strolling down a busy Pasadena street watching the shoppers walk by and I asked myself, “what is different about us Americans from my new friends in Baja?”. As I watched people walk right passed beggars and discuss their latest fashion I realized that the biggest difference is in our inability to see our own poverty. Simply put, we are better at covering up our needs, and we make ourselves feel better about our situation by referencing ourselves against the “true” poverty in other parts of the world. Every time I travel to less materially developed places I’m always challenged by how happy everyone seems to be. How can this be when they don’t have homes, TVs, cars, health insurance, or retirement plans? Maybe Jesus was right when he said that the poor were the ones who were truly blessed after all. Maybe we’re the ones that need to be saved from our poverty.