Friday, November 12, 2010

Where's Your Calcutta???

It's an interesting question really. I'm going to answer that question by asking another one.

Do rich Christians care about the poor?

I guess I should first define rich in order to answer that one. If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than seventy five percent of the people in the world. That's all of us I'm assuming, which puts us all in the top 25%. Now, if you have running water and a means of transportation, that bumps you up to the top 15%. Pretty eye opening statistics if you ask me. So all though we may not think of ourselves as rich, we are. Almost by virtue of living in America, we can claim this truth.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture of discontentment and comparison, so we often miss this fact. As I've mentioned several times before, the book "Radical" by David Platt has been a pivotal book in my life and has prompted many changes in our family's life and in the way that we view ourselves and the way we view the poor. One verse quoted in the book was Mathew 19:23-24 in which Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Previously, I would have skimmed this verse, assumed I wasn't a rich man (or woman) and kept reading. But I now understand that I am the rich man, as are the vast majority of Americans. American Christians are some of the wealthiest people in the world and the bible says it will be hard for us to enter God's kingdom if we don't wake up and make some changes in the way we care for the orphans and widows and poor living around us and around the world.

This is inspiring news to me as it has given us a greater purpose allowing for life outside of consumerism and accumulation. It has opened my eyes to needs I never use to think about like the need for orphan care, both through adoption and through sponsorship and the need to care for the widows and the poor and the sick. I now think of money spent in terms of "how many kids that could have sponsored for a month" or "how many people could have been fed by that one dinner out or new pair of shoes or trip to the movies.....

If we are the rich, then where are the poor? The answer of course is that they are all around us. They are our neighbors, our co-workers, the homeless, kids in foster care, families living in shelters (in our own cities), widows in nursing homes and orphans around the world-millions and millions of children without families to love them, beds to be tucked into or regular meals to nourish them. They are all around us yet all too often, we walk past them without a second thought. We sit back and say, "but what can I do?" or "can I really make a difference anyway?"

I'm reading another book now by Shane Claiborne called "The Irresistible Revolution: Living as Ordinary Radicals." The author set out on a mission in college to find "true" Christians living in the world-people who were actually following Jesus and living their lives out for Him. The list was a short one when compiled, but topping it was Mother Teresa. He had the life changing opportunity to serve along side her in Calcutta, India among the sick, the outcasts, the orphans and the dying.

One of the things he mentions about the poor, is that they do not exist because there is not enough stuff to go around. God did not make a mistake and give too much to some and not enough to others. In fact, Deuteronomy 15 gives a glimpse of the source of poverty.

Claiborne sites that the passage starts by saying "there SHOULD be no poor among you" :

4 However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.

to saying "if there are poor among you":

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them.

to "there will always be poor":

11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

The world is our land and we are commanded to be openhanded toward those in need. Claiborne argues that the great tragedy in the church today is not that rich Christians don't care about the poor, but that rich Christians do not KNOW the poor.

This could not have been more true for me and Nick. I don't believe that we ever consciously ignored the poor. I believe that we let the distractions of "our" busy lives cloud our priorities. I praise God for the gift of our trip to Ethiopia and for allowing us to see such extreme poverty and suffering. It rocked our worlds and life will never be the same--and it shouldn't be.

After we returned home, the feeling of needing to do something was overwhelming. The problems are too big and it's hard to know where to start. In the "Irresistible Revolution," Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, "We can do no great things, just small things with great love. It is not how much you do, but how much love you put into doing it." This is a lesson I've had to learn this year. I'll never solve any of the world's problems-that's not even my goal. The goal is to love others as Christ loves and to do it all in His name so that He gets the glory. If we are serving with the right intentions, others will be drawn to God, not to us. Our acts of service should be done in love and to Mother Teresa's point, it's not how big the thing is that we do, but the fact that we do something.

We are blessed to have experienced adoption and to be in the process again. We are also grateful for the opportunity to sponsor our sponsor child Meseret at Children's Hopechest's care point at Trees of Glory. It is not a "great" thing to sponsor one child. It takes little more than what we spend on a meal out to feed/clothe/educate and meet her medical and spiritual needs for one whole month. Yet, this one small thing done with great love makes the world of difference for her.

Having served most of her life in Calcutta, Mother Teresa is also quoted as saying, "Calcutta's are everywhere if only we have eyes to see. Find your Calcutta."

God has clearly spoken and our Calcutta is Ethiopia. We are grateful for the opportunity to sponsor a beautiful Ethiopian child, and to be able contribute to projects at Trees of Glory that will further support her and the other children and allow for them to hopefully break the cycle of poverty amongst nearly insurmountable odds. More importantly, we have the opportunity to spread the love of God to these desperate children through our small acts of great love.

A Children's Hope Chest team will leave tomorrow to work with and love on the 84 kids at Trees of Glory along with the children at Kind Hearts (another Ethiopian care point). I am eagerly anticipating pictures of our Meseret and seeing first hand what a difference it makes for these kids to know they are loved and that their basic needs will be consistently met.

While Nick was in Ethiopia in September, he was able to visit Trees of Glory and meet the staff there. Trees of Glory is situated on a beautiful piece of property with enormous potential to serve this needy community. Unfortunately, the piece of land between the school and the water well is not being actively used at this time and TOG is at risk of losing it. Ethiopian land laws allows unused land to be confiscated by the government.

We are excited to work with the Trees of Glory coordinator Karen Wistrom on a capital project that will protect the land and prevent it's loss. It is a big project that will require lots of us working together with great love to reach this goal.

I'll post details in the next few days about the project and how you can make a difference in the lives of over 80 vulnerable children while at the same time checking off some names from your Christmas list. What better way to honor Jesus' birth than giving gifts that matter to Him. Stay tuned for how you can get involved by spreading the word and spreading the love.

You'll be helping kids like Meseret know they matter. Please also keep the Children's Hopechest team in your prayers as they leave tomorrow for Ethiopia.

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