A peek around

We are here, and settling into life as much as we can. We dearly miss our friends and family. But it is beautiful here, and the work is good. We have started learning language, and I got to shadow around one day at the hospital so far, and got to see a baby born at 31 weeks continuing to grow and mature two weeks later in the hospital. I saw a safe delivery of a healthy baby– and a student nurse who gave him his vitamin K shots under the watching eyes of an experienced nurse. I know that culture shock will set in eventually, I know that we will get tired and discouraged sooner than we’d like. But we are trusting in the truth pf Psalm 118:1– that the Lord is good, that following Him is always best.

More later, but here are some pictures–IMG_5413

Home sweet home for now, as ours is being built…

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… with a surprise tomato plant creeping up the back of the house!

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Leo LOVES sitting on the front porch.

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Naomi in charge of pushing. Who’s surprised?

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Inside, lizards (geckos?) are welcome– they can eat the bugs!

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The running scenery’s not bad.

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A safe delivery of a healthy baby– the reason we are here.

-Maggie

November Writing Roundup

Another busy month! (Don’t worry, I can’t keep up with this pace much longer, either.)

My Neighbors’ Health Is My Business– The debut of my Christianity Today column! It will run every other month and focus on public health.

Why Should A Straight Person Care About Spiritual Friendship?– I’ve loved the Spiritual Friendship blog for a while now, so I was pleased to chime in when Wesley Hill, one of the editors asked me to write about why. Of note, Wes also interacted with a lot of my work from last month in this piece on community-building and sharing homes together.

Create Space For Singles– One of the things I’ve learned from Spiritual Friendship is how hard life in the church can be for people who aren’t called to marriage. I wrote about how families should take the lead in welcoming singles into our homes and lives.

The Right Thing Has A Real Cost– Matthew Lee Anderson put together an essay on “moral idealism” that riffed on my post on Planned Parenthood and Medicaid post a few months back. I took his ideas and ran with them, describing the political and social welfare policies by which pro-lifers might aggressively pursue an end to abortion in America.

Changing The World Requires Changing More Than Your Avatar– I still would have preferred to title this one “A Long String of Tweets in the Same Direction”, but oh well. It’s about how it’s perfectly okay not to empathize about every tragedy and the importance of finding a few things– or even one thing– beyond your immediate concerns and dedicating yourself to it.

The Hunger Games is the YA Dystopia America Deserves– Myself and two other Snake People chatted about power, redemption, and media in Mockingjay and The Hunger Games. We were not impressed, particularly since there’s still a  warmongering presidential candidate who does cutesy interviews with Lena Dunham.

Sandtown to South Sudan, Baltimore to Yei

 

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We’re leaving next week.

I’ve been waiting to go on the field and be a doctor for over a decade. And yet it’s all happening too fast now.

 

It is hard to wait. It has been hard to wait. I first felt called to cross-cultural service when I was 17 and within the year decided to study medicine and pursue unreached peoples specifically. Through the great work of the GMHC, that calling narrowed to focus on medical education, training and discipling a workforce to meet the health needs that one doctor alone could not meet in his lifetime.

It’s been over ten years of waiting, working, and studying. Some of you have known me since the days when I chronicled my progress on Xanga and we all wondered from time to time if I would ever make it to the field. There were severe illnesses— among other things– that made it seem like I might not ever get out. And then, a few years into medical school, I fell in love with Baltimore.

I did not expect to come to care so deeply about Baltimore or Sandtown. I grew up in the suburbs and lived my life the way of the suburbs; I came to the city for medical school to get out of it what I could before I left for the next thing. I think many people of my age, class, and skin color do the same. I don’t begrudge anyone who does this as long as “the next thing” is worthwhile; the way that education and vocation intersect generally requires most of us with a certain set of gifts spend time in different places for shorter seasons.

I expected my time in Baltimore to be a short season before I did residency at a Family Medicine program that would churn me out ready to hit the field. I was happy to get into the University of Maryland– I didn’t apply to a lot of schools and wanted to be relatively close to my family for the next few years. I continued to commute back to the church I’d grown up in every weekend, playing guitar on the worship team and eating lunch with my family before going back to my Monday morning exams.

I had been reading more and more Wendell Berry, though, which was striking bigger and bigger nerves in me. I loved traveling and had already been to a dozen countries by the time I was 20, but the emotional whiplash of short-term trips was already pricking at me (okay, mostly because of a bad relationship experience during an intense traveling time, but whatever it takes.) I felt convicted that if I was going to care about the place that I was living, I might as well at least go to church nearby.

New Song Community Church happened to be in the same denomination as the church I grew up in, so I tried visiting there first. When I started coming, it was in many respects at the height of its notoriety for being a faithful, orthodox congregation with a zealous commitment to the needs of its neighbors. After years of faithful service, there was a diverse portfolio of associated ministries that served many needs in the community. The preaching mixed the fire of traditional African-American styles with the theology I had learned to love as a teenager. The community was welcoming, diverse, and caring. I fell in love.

 

New Song was a very good place for me to come to at the time that I started attending for many reasons; one of which was that it was a place where I was not special. It was clear that the people I worshiped with and sat under were experts in applying the Bible’s teaching to community development. As a theology nerd with a passion for service, I ate it up.

My wife Maggie and I were falling in love and racing headlong towards marriage at that point, both of us confident that we had been called to cross-cultural service. Following the precepts of the Christian Community Development Association, and the example of several other church members, we decided we might want to relocate to Sandtown.  While I had always had foreign countries in mind, the rich fountain of life at New Song was captivating me and I was excited to jump in.

We were very straightforward with the leaders about our eventual direction, and they were equally straightforward with us (their main advice was to ensure that we let our neighbors know about the fact that we would only be there for a few years.) That summer, I was hospitalized just before we were set to do a rotation in Ethiopia and we ended up spending the time instead sitting on our front porch and getting to know the kids on our block. The more we did and the longer we stayed, the more entrenched Sandtown became in our hearts.

In between my daily interactions with my new neighbors and my training at the hospital where I became intimately familiar with the health issues of Baltimore, I was trying to read as much as I could about the things that shaped the city and my neighborhood. I still love To Live In Peace by Mark Gornik, New Song’s founding pastor, for its birds-eye view of the structural injustices that shaped Baltimore followed by a zoom-in on Sandtown and the history of New Song’s attempts to reclaim the Kingdom of God against those injustices through prayer, preaching, and service. The works of David Simon were also quite helpful, as well as the emerging world things shared on Baltimore Twitter.

As Maggie and I reached our first anniversary, we faced a decision: should we move to another city with a residency program that would get us to the field faster, or stay in Baltimore with the church we had come to love and be a part of? The former felt like quitting just as something good had been begun, but the latter felt like postponing the inevitable.

 

So here we are at the inevitable. I’m glad we stayed.

The last few years, while wonderful for us, have not been easy for New Song. Allan Tibbels, who moved into Sandtown in the 80’s well before it was remotely cool to do so, died six months after we relocated. Some of the associated ministries reached the end of their lifespan, went their own separate ways, or simply could not continue due to lack of funds. Our beloved pastor accepted a call elsewhere, leaving the pulpit empty for nearly a year and a half. It was a winnowing time in many respects and if you really want to know more, there are quite a few sermons that trace out more of the details.

In the midst of all these changes, I felt led to help build something. I was involved with the various functions of the health ministry– it had started off with a volunteer physician seeing people once a week, grown into a primary care clinic, and been cut back to some community activities and classes. The need for some way to address mental health needs in the community had been obvious to many for years, but no one knew how to do so in a way that would be culturally appropriate or helpful. I didn’t know either, but I was willing to try to find out.

There were a lot of meetings. We talked about the same topics– overcoming stigma, training indigenous leaders, appropriately scheduling, thoughtfully communicating– over and over. It was never easy and I spent a lot of time investing in people that I hoped could be leaders, but Satan snatched them away. Four years later, the only thing that seems to have worked is a monthly support group (and of course, that’s the thing that I was least involved with!)

It’s impossible to know what the future holds, and the coalition of people I met with over the years are going to take things forward as God leads. There are many reasons why people in communities like Sandtown don’t want to take advantage of mental health services even when there is an energetic young doctor bending over backwards to help make them more accessible; we now know more of them than ever before. The people I love, look up to, and submit to from the neighborhood insist that simply being a doctor who lives in Sandtown means a lot; as someone who did not grow up here I simply have to trust them and take them at their word that I made a difference in their eyes.

I’m personally convinced that God did not want me to have any success in ministry that could be used against Him to erode our relationship. It does not matter how important or useful an endeavor is; He will have no other gods before Him. When I was 17, after a lifetime in the suburbs I needed to see that there were churches meeting the heartrending needs of the world. At 22, after a few years of dabbling in service projects, I needed to see that I would collapse in on myself if I were not a part of such a church and giving myself to a sustainable endeavor, especially during my long training process. At 27, I needed to see just how hard meeting such needs in a sustainable endeavor could be and how easily I might confuse the Giver and the gifts.

 

Of course, all this time was not simply spent doing paperwork and leaving voicemail messages for people who had implied they might possibly be willing to see the counselor. Maggie and I– and eventually Naomi and Leo, as they came along– were enmeshing ourselves into the lives of our neighbors and other friends in Baltimore. I worked a lot– an average of 60-80 hours per week for the better part of our first five years of marriage– but we never stopped hosting, visiting, and fellowshipping. The more we did it, the more we wanted to do it, and the more enmeshed we became.

We never forgot our first calling, even as the steps necessary to follow it got harder and harder. As we moved closer to residency graduation, sending agencies became more interested when we talked to them at conferences and we eventually found a great fit that was willing to start the process 2 years out. At that time, Naomi was 2 months old and we had a housemate living with us; we knew that we either needed more space or one less person in the house. (Naomi, stubborn then as she is now, refused to move out and get a job while she still knew everything.) We had just about given up on finding a bigger house and submitted our application for overseas service when we got a call informing us that there was a house in Sandtown with everything we wanted at a great price.

We bought it.

 

I remember the weekend we moved: Maggie and I were both working, but I managed to swing a day off. We weren’t even completely packed up when our horde of friends arrived; they spent an hour cheerfully putting our kitchen into boxes before moving it six blocks away. Friends showed up two hours after we started, disappointed that there was nothing else they could do to help. We were overwhelmed with generosity, but that was only the beginning.

New Song has always been dedicated to Sandtown, so much so that it has never sent out any families for overseas service. We had no idea how it would be received when we began the process to move away and we were blown away by the eagerness with which the church leaders wanted to see us go out and be supported as we did so. A roomful of less than a hundred raised $1500 in one offering for us for our survey trip. One of the things that has struck me about life in Sandtown is that my neighbors– even the poorest among them– will sacrifice whatever they can for someone that is needier than they are without hesitation. It’s a blessing, a challenge, and a rebuke for me.

Among many other things, I never realized just how much work it is to move overseas. The process of support raising in particular began to take us away from church on Sunday mornings and the various trainings began to suck up the time that we had been pouring into local ministry. It actually worked out better than we expected to have those forward-looking time demands grow more naturally one at a time until we had managed to mostly extricate ourselves from our local commitments (please pray for some good church nursery volunteers…)

I recently wrote about committing oneself to a few things for the good of the world. Though I wish otherwise, I cannot simultaneously be a Sandtown relocator and practice family medicine in a country with some of the worst maternal health statistics in the world. I lose count when I try to list off all the things I’m passionate about; I lose any hope of getting something good done when I try to do more than a few at a time. For all my love of Wendell Berry, we’re committed as a family to a lifestyle full of partings, transitions, and all the extra work that being mobile requires. We will be committed to South Sudan, but maintaining that commitment could be far more easily supplanted by my commitments as a father to my children or even as a human being with a fragile body to my own health.

I struggle quite a bit to order my commitments. There is a leading from God to South Sudan now as sure as the leading we felt to stay in Sandtown when we could have chosen otherwise, but I don’t know how that will play out any more than I knew how these last few years would play out. I do think that the general shape of a Christian life calls for a meaningful commitment to wherever it is you are living; even if you are only in a place for a season then you should expect to dedicate yourself to that place as much as possible during that season. I suspect that this sort of approach is what allowed Paul, Mediterranean migrant that he was, to plant so many fruitful churches (for more on this subject, see Christianity Rediscovered). However, there are any number of leadings, moral statutes, or circumstances which make any uniformity to some ideal of Christian living impossible: whether it is celibacy as a sexual minority, a chronic illness in yourself or a loved one, or the voice of God leading you to a far country, many of us have large boulders in our path that will point us in a particular direction no matter how much we might want to keep going straight.

The last few days and weeks have emphasized to me that somehow, we are simultaneously held dearly by so many people and yet sent out by them. At one of our farewell parties, I was going to order pizza for dinner and I had to explain to everyone present that they didn’t have to chip in because I was going to put in an expense report; everyone there was a donor who had already paid for their slice several times over. Someone asked me what I was feeling the most as we prepare to go– excitement, sadness, nervousness– and I had to say “Gratitude” because I am constantly confronted with how we have been shaped by the people we have loved and the institutions we have all been a part of. Particularly New Song.

The people of New Song came to our wedding and danced with us there as we were transitioning from suburban to urban living. The elders of the church anointed me with oil when I was sick, and I was healed. The congregation pledged to help me and Maggie raise Naomi and Leo as they were been baptized into the Body. When we go to South Sudan, we will not arrive disconnected from New Song. In some ways, we go as the church’s emissaries to meet the church there– and bring the joy of participating in global service back to them.

 

The way that we talk, listen, plan, discuss, share, lead, and submit as we learn to love our South Sudanese neighbors is bound to be affected by what we’ve experienced in Sandtown, which is just a particularly intense penumbra of influence among many others. Our families, our home churches, the places we’ve worked, even, yes, Twitter– the places we have come from and the people who have loved us have helped make us the people that we are. We will not just be taking the money of the people in that room who paid for their pizza in advance to South Sudan.

Furthermore, we can only see glimpses now of how this commitment will shape our friendships even further. The grief and sorrow of parting mixed with the frustration of trying to be present in Sandtown while preparing to move are immediately apparent, but even now we are getting to see the outpouring of generosity in the enormous effort to overcome the gravitational forces that usually keep people from moving to another continent. Even the songs that we share– the ones that make us break into sobs at the breakfast table– take on new meaning as we hear them and sing them to one another.

 

Will we come back? Lord willing, yes. We’ll have furloughs every few years (our first will happen about 2 years from now). It’s been a blessing to meet people who have been doing this for decades and see how their journeys have happened. Some even went out when they were my age, came back for reasons related to family or illness or a bend in the river, and are now going back again at a time when most their age are counting down to retirement. We don’t know what will bring us back– scheduled breaks, unscheduled tragedies– and yes, there exists the remote possibility that we might not come back (for more on how we’ve processed that, read here). Baltimore will remain our home base, the place we have been sent from and the place we’ll return to.

We’ll be renting our house to a faithful young couple who have chosen to relocate to Sandtown. We’ll still be paying taxes, voting, and dishing out cranky observations about the mismanagement of both. I recognize that what we have given to Baltimore and what we have received are what they are and both are bound to be constricted from the distance. The people of Baltimore and the people of Sandtown in particular have many needs to be met; the fact that we’ll be working in a place with far more dramatic life-and-death needs doesn’t negate that. Baltimore remains in our hearts, our prayers, and our way of life. Hopefully it is the same for some of you– we trust that God will raise up great leaders from within Sandtown and bring in great supporters from without.

The “check your privilege” instinct comes to mind. Whether they are trapped in one place or forced to be mobile, millions of people would love to have my problems. And perhaps one day they will. I don’t think there’s any other way for it to happen unless privileged people like me and their friends conspire together about how to divvy up their resources to send people to places in need and build up leaders in those places of need. I can spend a lot of time torturing myself about my privilege, but I’m a terrible judge of these things and have found that it’s more worthwhile to spend time building relationships with people who have the authority to check my privilege for me.

The most important person who has this authority is my wife, who you will hopefully get to read more of in the years to come. Our commitment has somehow become the gravitational center of so many other commitments even as our love in turn is held together by the grace and mercy of God. Maggie is eternally hospitable and draws in people in ways that I am simply unable to, using means that I am far too clumsy at, facilitating all of the work that I do in the hospital or the community with patience and generosity. Even our children– another one of those direction-changing boulders in the stream– draw other people in with their love in ways that I could not have ever expected but am so grateful for.

 

Together, we go because we have been loved since before the beginning of time by God and by so many people since before we were born. We have been shaped and prepared by love. We are sent out because we are being loved. Our friends and family are loving us as we go with their rib-crushing embrace followed a hearty push out, even as Christ draws to Jerusalem to kneel at His cross before going to the ends of the earth. We will be sustained for the years to come by the support and prayers of people who love us. Best of all, we all anticipate that the work we have been sent to do will one day be completed as definitively as it was started and our love will be made complete as we are reunited.

I’m looking forward to it.

 

What rush of hallelujahs on Canaan’s happy shore

What knitting severed friendship up where partings are no more

Then eyes with joy shall sparkle which brimmed with tears of late

Orphans no longer fatherless, nor widows desolate.

October Writing Roundup

Faith and Fragile Families: I owe so much to my parents and wrote part of their testimony in honor of their twenty-ninth wedding anniversary.

Life Together Means Living Together: Our life in Baltimore has centered a lot around our church and our neighborhood. This has been borne out of our convictions about how the Church should promote mutuality through physical proximity and fellowship.

Q & A For People Who Hate The Benedict Option: This humorous dialogue, meant to be read with the voices of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry in your head, provoked a thoughtful response from Rod Dreher, so I responded with The Blinkered Benedict Option.

October Fundraiser 10/11/15 at Jubilee Arts!

We’re getting really close to our goal of raising all the support we need to get to South Sudan, but we’re not quite there yet! As of this writing, we’re at 75% of our monthly goal.

Thus, we’re having a fundraiser on Sunday, October 11th at 1947 Pennsylvania Avenue (the Harris-Marcus Center, AKA Jubilee Arts) at 6:30PM-8:00PM. 

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We’ve decided to do a coffeehouse format so our talented friends can share a song, poem, dramatic reading, or other talent. Interspersed with the sharing will be more detailed information and pictures of where we’re going. There is no obligation to give; you can just come to learn more or hang out. We will have stations set up if you’re so led (or you can always give here if you can’t come or you’d rather not wait!)

We hope you can come! Email me (our last name dot matthew at gmail dot com) if you’d like to participate.

Life lately

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Phew! It’s been a busy few months. I am terrible at remembering to pull out my camera, but I did manage to snag a few photos of our goings-on:

Enjoying a crepe brunch on Labor day– lots of savory fillings and good company! We love our Baltimore friends.

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Spending as much time as we can with family:

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Celebrating Naomi’s 3rd (!!) birthday with a gift of books and pierced ears:IMG_4507

Getting surprised by a lovely visit from our dear friend Kez– she came to our church and we got to go on a long, leisurely bike ride just catching up:

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Leo learned to roll over!

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Two visits from Auntie Renu. We even got to meet her parents!IMG_4569

August Writing Roundup

I’ll be sharing my latest writings here on the blog, though I also usually put a little digest at the end of our regular emails (sign up here!) and put stuff out through social media as it comes out. Here’s your chance to see anything you may have missed:

Democratizing Community Health– my first piece for Comment’s print magazine and a pretty important essay for me. A lot of people recognize that American healthcare is broken in many ways, but a lot of “solutions” keep the current power structures in play. Doctors and patients alike recognize that patients feel and act powerless. We have to change our healthcare systems to shift more power to the communities most in need.

Fear the Lifestyle That Will Kill Body and Soul– It’s not easy to think about taking our kids to a place where they’re more vulnerable to disease and violence. However, the fear of such things can contribute to all sorts of anti-Biblical decisions. I looked at how our family is thinking through these issues and how it relates to current Benedict Option discussions.

Loving The Poor: Pics Or It Didn’t Happen– There’s a lot of armchair observations about the Culture War and how we ought to “just love people”. I tried to push back on that idea a little.

Review: This Is My Body– I really enjoyed reading Ragan Sutterfield’s book This Is My Body about faith, food, exercise, and caring for our bodies. It wasn’t a perfect book by any means, but it had a lot of really worthwhile things to say.

How to Defund Planned Parenthood– There’s been a push lately to defund Planned Parenthood. I challenged “single issue voters” on abortion to consider expanding Medicaid as part of a larger political compromise to stop abortion. [UPDATE: The CaPC crew invited me to discuss this article on their podcast! Listen here as we get more into the policy weeds and the realpolitik on the subject of being pro-life “from womb to tomb”.]

Three

Oh, Naomi.
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Have you always been about the sass, or does it just seem so?
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Let me think.

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My baby girl is three today. Fierce, determined, with a major nurturing side.

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So many of our days involve me wanting to bang my head directly against the wall well before the hour of nine am. As well as prayers thought-shouted to the heavens for wisdom and patience.

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They are also filled with intensely beautiful moments, which just seems to be the reality of life.

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Motherhood has split my soul open and broken my heart in so many ways. It daily reminds me of the truth of God, and my own constant need for grace.

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I’m so glad she came to us first.
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a brief disclaimer on missions, fundraising, and causes we love

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.

BmMMFxACMAACNlsProportion 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.