As our family prepares to serve overseas in a country that is very poor & politically unstable country, you will probably hear me make some comparisons between the developed world and the developing world. I’ll also be asking for money and prayer all the time as well as occasionally insinuating that other people from America could join us overseas. Mostly, the point of this will be to help you understand just how bad off things are there so that you will pray for us and pray for the people we’re working with. Here’s what that doesn’t mean:
1. It’s all about money
Trust me, I know: As a citizen of the internet, I see things all the time asking me for money. Many are incredibly good causes. Most of our family’s giving still goes to personal friends in full-time ministry, and I suspect it’s the same for many other people. However, sometimes folks give because of a less personal appeal (I sure have) and we’d like to take advantage of that if we can. We feel called to a particular place and vocation to serve, but we need thousands of dollars a month to live on in order to do it. We wouldn’t ask anyone for money if we didn’t think it would be used prudently to bless thousands of people in South Sudan who need good maternity and pediatric care, but we understand if maternity and pediatric care in South Sudan is not your thing (see #2 below.) The only reason we’ll talk about it a lot is because it’ll pretty much always be needed to keep things running or make things run better.
2. You should feel guilty if this doesn’t move you
Everyone has their own calling and their own God-given passions. If you’re being disobedient to a call God is placing on your heart, that’s a good reason to feel guilty. If you just don’t feel like reading my harrowing updates about dying children or you have other things that are more important to you that are getting your money, that’s not a reason to feel guilty. (I recommend checking first to make sure that God isn’t placing a call on your heart, as such calls are often easily missed in the insanity of modern life.) I’m glad we live in an age where technology gives you the privilege of participating more generously than ever before, and we’ll never make it without lots of people reading, praying, and giving. You don’t have to be one of them if that’s not where God is leading you, and we can still be friends. I will also not be offended if you unsubscribe from my e-mail list or stop following me on Twitter (although if you have feedback for how to make my emails or tweets better reading, feel free to share before you do!)
3. There aren’t problems in America to be fixed
I am proud to say that I’ll continue to be working at Healthcare for the Homeless until we leave (sub-disclaimer: nothing I say on this blog or social media represents their official viewpoint, as I hope you might be able to discern), but the sad reality is that they’re hiring because the needs of the homeless in Baltimore are only increasing. I have heard people say that they can understand poverty elsewhere and appreciate the importance of fighting it overseas, but there are so many resources available (maybe too many) to the poor here that they have little sympathy for domestic poverty. Such a viewpoint is, quite frankly, uninformed but easily correctable. We aren’t going overseas because the work is done in Baltimore, we’re going because we believe God wants us to go elsewhere and He has more people here who can do the things we’ve been doing here than He does there.
Proportion of physicians by country. Source: WHO, 2006
4. Other causes aren’t important
I love great music. It has helped me through some tough times in my life and it has been a part of some of my best experiences with friends and at church. I have given plenty of money to artists that I love to listen to because I want to support them in what they do and can keep doing it. There are many artists who feel judged for pursuing a life of creating, especially if their art doesn’t have an explicitly Christian focus. I think this is silly; it is good to create things that are beautiful or that tell the truth in ways that stick with us. Heck, even great video games have been part of my self-care for a while; what’s more frivolous than video games? Entertainment is a part of our lives and thus part of our culture– if we’re going to spend money on it, we should spend it on the best things. We should still spend more money on helping to keep people in other countries alive past their 5th birthday, but hopefully you can see the difference between the two sentiments.
Similarly, injustice in America is bad (see point #1) and events like the death of Eric Garner expose the importance of working for justice in America and disavowing complacency. However, it is still important to recognize that Brown’s death is horrific because we have a standard of justice that the majority of Americans can expect; in many other places around the world, extrajudicial killings and other severe miscarriages of justice like his are quite commonplace. This discrepancy doesn’t make his death less deserving of attention (or our justice system less culpable), but it does make other deaths more deserving. The Locust Effect elucidates this distinction (as well as how our country went from a very unjust system of law enforcement to a more reliable system in less than a century.)
5. There aren’t people in other countries solving their own problems
One of the great things about going overseas at this point in history is that we get to learn a lot from those who came before us. One thing we’ve learned is that when outsiders do all the work, locals are disempowered. So, then, a big part of our job is going to be equipping locals who are already serving and working for the good of their own people so that they can be more effective. Just because we got on a plane (or moved into the ‘hood, as the case may be) doesn’t make us heroes. There were locals working in poor places before we showed up and they’ll be there when we leave. Some have even chosen to stay when they had the option to leave, which is a pretty powerful testimony if you ask me.
6a. You’re inadequate because you’re not doing what we’re doing
I hate this one because I know folks are usually trying to be nice when they say, “I could never do what you do and go help those people over there!” Really. I appreciate the sentiment. But it’s bad theology– because if you’re a believer in Jesus, then barring any serious illnesses or unrepentant sins, the Holy Spirit could equip and empower you to live in a hard place and suffer hard things. Really! I promise! And I can make that promise to you because it’s the same one that we’re clinging to in order to survive the hard times in our hard places when we feel inadequate to do what we’re doing. Because we feel that way sometimes, too.
6b. You should feel guilty for your comfortable lifestyle
I’ve never heard this one stated in this way, but I have heard people try to defensively downplay the role of sacrifice in Christian living. I already wrote about this elsewhere, but I am going to give every individual I meet the benefit of the doubt and assume that God has called that person to the station and vocation they’re currently in (unless they have said something recently about “persecution of Christians” with reference to a waterfowl fiefdom and they don’t pray through Voice of the Martyrs regularly. Again, an easily correctable deficiency! ) Given the mismatch between the needs of the world (including poor rural and inner-city areas in America) and the blessings held by wealthy Christians, the only conclusion I can draw is that some believers are hidin’ it under a bushel, burying their talent in the ground, and packing their bags for Tarshish. But that is between you and Jesus, not between me and you. God’s call to each of us is unique, but the faithfulness He commands us to is anything but. Besides, we can’t go without a strong home base of support.
7. We’re special
Man, I’d really like to think so. It just ain’t the case. We’re obedient to our call, just like my neighbors C.W. & Amelia who stayed in Sandtown or my doctor friends who are providing great care for their patients in a small town or the moms I know who are raising their kids. We just think that God has called us to be faithful in a different culture, that’s all.
With that said, we hope and pray that your participation in what we do– whether it’s just by reading or by praying and giving– is a blessing to you.