Saturday, July 23, 2011

Wealth & Poverty

Almost every day, because of my surroundings here, I think about poverty in one way or another.  Now that we're 10 months into our Honduran lives, I have way more questions than I do answers.  One image I will never forget actually comes from our short stay in Guatemala a few months ago.  A favorite nighttime activity of ours was to go to the central plaza, sit on a park bench, and just people-watch for hours.  Tons of locals walked and played in the plaza at night, so it was a great way to experience their culture.  
Our last night in Antigua, as we sat peacefully on a bench, we suddenly got caught in the middle of a crowd of adolescent girls!  Some native Guatemalan girls, dressed in traditional clothing and carrying big loads of materials on their backs, were offering to give hair wraps to a family with several teenage daughters.  Hair wraps, if you don't know, are just small sections of hair that have been wrapped in colorful thread, and are many times a 'souvenir' for tourists to take back home.  
I watched as the seemingly wealthy, Latin teenagers asked their parents for the cash, then picked out their favorite colors of thread and fancy beads.  And then I watched the skillful young hands of the native girls as they wrapped their customers' hair.  Being in a different culture helps me see things in new, and many times clearer, ways, and that night as I observed the native girls - working at 9pm to earn a couple bucks - and the wealthy Latin girls - enjoying all the thrills of their family vacation - I wondered, 'Why is one girl born into poverty, and thus destined to work and struggle in a difficult life, while another girl is born into wealth, with access to opportunity and all she may need or desire?'

And then, of course, I thought about my own life...Why was I born in Edmond, Oklahoma, USA, and not into the slums of some of the poorest nations in the world?  What makes me different... 'the lucky one?'  And now that I have been born and raised in one of the richest nations of the world, what do I do with that?  Many short term mission groups are visiting Honduras right now, especially because it's summertime, and I know that members of those groups often ask themselves similar questions.
One of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, wrote Gracias, which is actually a journal of his time living and serving in South America.  He was daily faced with issues of wealth and poverty, and I love some of the perspectives he shares.  He explains how, because of the many "safety systems" in his life, he would not be allowed to become truly poor.  I believe the same is true for Bart and me, too, as we live here in Honduras.  He says,
I am not poor as my neighbors are.  I will never be and will not ever be allowed to be by the people who sent me here.  I have to accept my own history and live out my vocation, without denying that history.  On the other hand, I realize that the way of Christ is a self-emptying way.  What that precisely means in my own concrete life will probably remain a lifelong question.
For me, the key words are 'self-emptying' and 'lifelong.'  When we empty self, we strive for ways of being and living that are sacrificial, focused on the good of others.  We ask ourselves, 'Okay, I'm giving this much of my time/energy/resources, but can I give more?'  And when we acknowledge that this is a lifelong question, a lifelong process, we're saying that a regular, honest examination of our lifestyle and future goals will have to occur for the rest of our time here on earth.  
My favorite part of the book - which the title alludes to - is that none of what we do is to be out of guilt, but out of gratitude.  We can joyfully live each day in the service of others, completely out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us!  So inspiring!


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Pat, I’d like to solve the puzzle...

You know when you’re watching Wheel of Fortune (don’t pretend like I’m the only one!) and somebody solves the Prize Puzzle and wins a week-long trip to some distant, tropical island, and you’re like, “LUCKY!!!”  Well, that just happened to Bart and me, without having to solve the puzzle (or be a part of the Wheel Watchers Club...which I need to join soon)!  Some Honduran friends of ours - two couples around our age who each have 2-year-old daughters - were given a week’s stay in a condo on the island of Roatan, plus the use of a car, and they decided to invite us along.

This is a big deal.  Only a small percentage of Hondurans ever get to visit this island, even though it’s just a short boat ride off the Caribbean coast, so the fact that our friends wanted to share their blessing with us was truly impressive.  Actually, the people who gave them this wonderful gift are a family from Texas who currently sponsor the ministry work of one of the couples, Carlos & Idalmi.  The other couple, Elvin & Mary, are house-parents at the boys’ home where we work.  So each of these Honduran couples work in the ‘ministry trenches’ down here and truly deserved a restful, rejuvenating vacation.

Roatan is a beautiful island.  The weather is warm and sunny.  The snorkeling off West Bay Beach is awe-inspiring.  And the ocean is calm, warm, and bright blue.  I can’t help but see God when I’m there: in the tropical flowers, the amazing coral reef, and the many unusual, brightly-colored fish that demonstrate His creativity and design!  It seemed like an unbelievable opportunity before we left...and now that we’re home, I have to look at pictures to convince myself we were actually there.  So the following pictures are really more for myself than anyone else!

Idalmi, me, Mary

Elvin, Carlos, Bart

My swimming buddies for the week: Shelly and Ellen


After a day of snorkeling on West Bay Beach