Friday, January 25, 2013

Sometimes it’s not all about the money (take 2)

Last week I arrived in M-ville for the 3rd support visit since October. The first visit was made in order to check-in on the project and to clean and prep our new house here. The second visit was made after our leadership announced that our family could not live in M-ville again. The house that I had prepped in October thus got packed and shipped out in Dec. It was heartbreaking for the watchmen to have to watch and help with this move, especially for kaka, my son’s favorite man here. --- Arriving for the third visit last week, the procedure of visiting here has become old hat: I convince at least one other guy to come with me, I bring some food, we enjoy playing pool and eating a lot of meat, and we call it M-ville men’s retreat. On the Oct and Dec visits there were invites to people’s homes, because I had been away from March-October. Now in January, I suspected that they would feel that their hospitality obligations had been served. I was surprised, then, when on the morning after arriving, kaka told me he would be buying lunch for Garry and I. “You don’t need to do that kaka,” I told him. He shook his head, “don’t say that, you’re my guest.” I tried to argue that I wasn’t a guest because I had lived here, but he didn’t accept my arguments. I tried to wear him down by insisting 5 times that I buy his lunch instead of him buying mine, but he didn’t budge. “Go ask Garry what he wants, and tell me what you both want and I’ll bring it,” kaka said definitively. I went away, and tried coming back three times later, with different arguments about why he didn’t need to do this. --- I don’t know completely why I argued so much with kaka about one lunch. Maybe it was because I know how much he earns, and it’s less than 1/6th of what our local office manager earns (and he constantly complains it’s not enough). Maybe it was because he knew how many nice foods from the bazaar my family was able to buy (he used to do our shopping), that he was not able to buy for his family. Maybe it was because I know that he is very sad and disappointed that my family will not be living here again. For whatever reason, I desperately wanted to reverse this man’s will, and put money in his pocket to feed his family, rather than let him spend it on fattening me. --- On the third time I returned to kaka to argue, he took a tone of seriousness and set me straight. “You don’t get it. In my culture, you’re my guest, and we serve our guests for their whole stay. I’m ashamed to admit that I can’t feed you for the whole week, I would not have anything left to feed my kids. I would feed you all week if I could, but I can’t, I’m sorry. I WILL buy your lunch today, hosting my guest is part of me. --- Once again I had missed it. I had missed that it’s not all about money when you have something more personal to share. I let kaka buy a simple lunch for Garry and I, and I doubly satisfied his hosting appetite by saying that we would come to his home for lunch the next day. He was thrilled to have us in his home. I was thrilled to meet his youngest son, 5-month-old Ibrahim, who I had advocated for when kaka and his wife were considering aborting him. Kaka turned 15 shades of red as I went on and on about how special and awesome Ibrahim was. --- Now the only thing left to do is sneak cakes and fruit and meat into the saddlebags of kaka’s bicycle before I leave here, and not get caught by him doing it!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sometimes it’s not all about money

Every week, sometimes a couple times a week, my phone begins to buzz, and the familiar name of a local friend shows on the caller ID. I call him Tom. Tom has a talent for calling at the worst of times: putting the kids to bed, in a meeting with local staff, or in the bathroom! Tom is persistent, enthusiastic, and loyal, and I like him because of that. For the past months he has been repeatedly asking me to find a job for his friend, Zed. Zed has been out of work for a long time, and he lives in this new city that we are now in. Unfortunately I have no ability to create or open a job for him right now. After each request, Tom begrudgingly accepts this unfortunate reality. Last week Tom said, “Zed wants to meet you, where can he meet you?” I knew this was coming, yet it made me anxious to think of hearing all the petitions of this friend of a friend. I could tell that this was important to Tom, and Tom has become important to me, so I named a time and place to meet Zed. --- It’s mid-day outside the park, and I’m looking for Zed so that we can sit down to a nice plate of rice and meat at a restaurant, my treat. We find one another and I lead him into a restaurant, but before we sit down on the cushions he says, “this is a problem, we can’t meet here, it is much safer to meet at your office.” So, we take a 20-minute walk back to the office, and I try to buy some kebabs along the way, but Zed keeps refusing to eat. This is a bit disappointing, since I was looking forward to a nice lunch. We finally reach the office and sit down, and Zed begins to tell me his story. --- Zed is a poor man, so poor that he has not been able to get married. Let me spell out the significance of this: in this culture, marriage is paramount. Without marriage there are no children, and without children there is no, shall we say, social security. In this culture, children are much more than progeny, they are the sustaining of a family’s name and honor, and they are the only hope an older adult has of being able to retire, rest, and die in dignity. When a man is approaching 40 years old and says he is too poor to marry, this is basically a declaration of an emergency. --- So there I am in the office with a jobless, wifeless man… a man whose friend has diligently advocated that I give a job to, but for whom I have no job to give. Wish you could have been in my shoes? --- I patiently listen to the story of Zed, and what he describes is a pretty awful situation, but he does not move on to a clear statement of request. Breaking a long pause, I begin to delicately explain the nature of NGO job posts. I told of how I started working with 100+ local staff, and that I could not prevent it when nearly 90 of those lost their jobs. I told him of the conservatism and ethnic suspicions in my next project, tensions that created high risk for bringing people from his ethnic group on staff. I told him of the growing risks for locals working with NGOs, including increasing kidnappings. Then I was just moving to the conclusion of how I did not currently have any jobs to offer him, when he interrupted me. --- “Excuse me, but you’ve misunderstood me,” Zed said, “I didn’t come here to talk about jobs of money. That’s not the point. I came because I want you to pray for me, and remember me. I need to know that you’ve heard my situation, and are praying for me through this hard season.” --- The room was quiet for what seemed like an hour. I sat and recalled Zed’s story through a new frame of reference, and was aghast at his hardships, in light of his sincerity. Then Zed broke the silence again, “sure, if you had a job, I would take it, but that’s not why I wanted to meet you. I’m not without options. I could stand in the bazaar with other day laborers and get some work now and then. I could join the police and make a decent wage. I’m not that concerned about this, what I’m concerned about is how to keep my heart and faith strong, and how to keep running this race.” Indeed, in the story Zed told me when we first sat down, he made mention that his heart had been transformed 3 years earlier. I didn’t mention that to you earlier in this story, because I didn’t fully trust his words, until he added a demonstration of that transformed heart. After the above statements from Zed I realized, alright, this guy is for real. --- So we prayed. I prayed over every matter that Zed had mentioned, and he prayed for me and praised God for our encounter. --- A couple days after Zed and I met, he left town, headed back to the village he came from, hoping to spend the winter with genuine friends. I’ve talked to him only a couple times since, but I’m sure we’ll meet again. Maybe next time I’ll have one of those risky jobs to offer him.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Rooster

The country we work in has seen a lot of violent conflict.  Many lives have been lost in the waves of conflicts, and much destruction has been done.  The destruction is still evident, but it has faded in the 10+ years of reconstruction.  A person who has not lived through the years of fighting can easily forget all the damage that has been done to the hearts of the people that walk this land.  A person who did not lose a loved one in the conflicts here does not know what sort of pain lies in the historical narrative of this land. 

I am one of those persons who does not know the extent of damage or depth of heartache done in recent years.  Sometimes I forget this.  I like to think that I have learned a little bit in the 5 years we’ve been here.  For that reason, I bought this rooster, as a reminder to myself.

This rooster was made in the late 90’s.  It was hand carved from a single piece of lapis.  Birds are a loved animal here, roosters included.  This rooster was carved to a high enough quality that he was sold and moved along to one of the premier shops in the biggest city in the northern region.  He sat on the shelf with other fine hand carvings in a beautiful display case.  Then one day in the year 1999 or 2000, someone who was guided by religious extremism; someone possessed with the task of enforcing his ideals, came and broke this rooster.  He smashed the display case with the intent of destroying all the carved images.  They were, in his mind, idols that were an abomination to God. 

I don’t know why the shop owner saved the broken rooster.  He had to throw away most of the hand-carvings because they were broken beyond recognition.  Perhaps he saved this one because, although broken, it could still stand.  For whatever reason, he saved it. 

For about 12 years this broken rooster sat on the shelf unappreciated.  When I spotted him he was laid down among other dusty, junky, antique trinkets.  I asked about it, and the shopkeeper told me the story that I’ve told you.  When asked how much he would sell it for, the shopkeeper shrugged and said, “take it for $5.”  I gathered that it had much more value when it was first finished and put on display.

What’s the use of a broken rooster, and why did I bring him home?  He’s a survivor.  He’s beaten up and broken, but he’s a survivor.  He didn’t get thrown away or buried under dirt when so many other things like him did.  Still he did not have enough value to be sold, so he sat uselessly on the shelf.

How many poor people of this land have been like this rooster?  How many people were beaten and killed by foreign invaders in the 80’s?  After that how many were caught in the crossfire of a civil war that wreaked of evil?  After that how many were oppressed and impoverished as religious fundamentalists laid the culture and the economy to waste.  In each phase of conflict poor bystanders of the fighting parties were beaten and killed, but others survived.  Some have weathered through all of those waves of conflict.  They show the weight of those hardships in wrinkles on their brow.  They are the survivors.

Surviving hasn’t been easy; those that have survived have not been untouched.  No one can undo all that the wars have done to them, just as I cannot put the smashed and lost legs of the rooster back on.  We cannot quickly make this people what we want them to be: peaceful, world-servants, a democracy.  We cannot do anything with them until we realize who they are and how they got to be that way.  We fail if we view them as broken objects that we will quickly fix.  We can get hurt if we don’t realize that they may not play well with others, because others have not played well with them.  We might be tempted to just leave these broken people on the shelf, hoping that someone else will come along and deal with them.

Looking at this rooster today, it’s not very attractive, but try looking at it through a different perspective.  Imagine how it looked when it was first made.  Think of the value the creator saw in it.  Consider the care that he used in carving and polishing it.  If we see the value that the Creator saw, then why won’t we take them, dust them off, set them upright again and say: you’re worth something, even after what you’ve been through, there’s a dignity about you; you can still do what you were made to do. 

In the case of the rooster, he can still stand on my shelf and make a curious decoration piece to admire and talk about.  In the case of this people, they can still discover and serve in the Kingdom.  They just need us to care enough to come and work with them, and to point them in that direction.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

To you, our incredible supporters:

For these past years that my wife and I have served overseas, we have been generously supported by some of the greatest people in the world.  Perhaps you are one of them.  This blog post goes out to you, because honestly, we think that you are incredible.  You might not think that you do much, but we see it differently.  From our perspective, this is what you are doing when you’re supporting us financially and/or in prayer:

You are keeping the movement of long-term workers alive.  Short-term trips are the craze: anybody can go, and then come back home.  The value is that lives can be impacted, but short-term work will never replace what long-termers do.  Long-termers know the language and culture, and they experience the suffering of the people they work with.  There is no better way to earn validity and bring influence and change than to live with people.  Thank you for supporting us so that we can be long-term workers.

You are caring for people that you will never meet, believing that they too are people worth helping.  Not a lot of visitors come to where we work, because we live in a remote, insecure place.  Some people find it hard to invest in work for a people that they cannot meet, but not you.  The people that are helped because you support us will probably never be able to thank you.  Thank you for supporting us so that we can help people that feel trapped in an isolated, insecure place. 

You are combating the attitude of fear and anger with a love for your enemies, and hope like a mustard seed.  The country we work in is viewed by many as a lost cause because of the many aspects of governance and security that are still out of control.  Some would not send a penny in this direction for fear that it might lend something to their enemies.  Not you; you are with us in believing that expressing God’s love is our best defense and our best weapon.  You believe with us that it is possible for the Kingdom of God to be revealed here.  You live in hope with us that the leaders we work with and the seeds we plant and water will change this country.

You are sensitively listening to and following God, who has impressed upon your heart not the evil of this place, but the opportunity.  If all you listened to were the negative news stories, if all you believed was that these people are entirely violent and corrupt, there is no way you could support us.  You have heard that there are souls that hunger after the King.  You have heard that among the mess here, there are lives worth redeeming.  You have heard that, against all odds, there is faith, there are miracles, there is a body, and it is unstoppable.  With your support, you have joined the quiet movement that nurtures the advancement of this unlikely body.

Not all of you, but some of you: you ARE us: much of your life has played out, but given another go ‘round, you would be in our shoes.  In your eyes we are not foolish, childish, or irresponsible, we’re right on the mark.  You somehow hear the same call that we've heard; it resonates with you.  You marvel over God’s work in us, and count that as more valuable than anything a person can do for themselves.  Could you do it over again, you would be here too: serving, praying, sharing hope.   Thank you for your affirmation, and for your unwavering support.

Dear supporters, the above are the reasons that we think you are incredible.  The way you support us blurs the line between “us” here and “you” there.  Our hearts, our souls, and our goals are much closer than our persons.  Thank you is a trite way to end, but what else can we say?