How Do I Defend an Orphan – Part II

Zambia…. Photo Credit:Wikipedia

Texas Cowboys...

Texas…(Photo credit: MyEyeSees)

This July, a passel of Texans are headed to Zambia on a medical mission trip, something I wrote about here. Though invited, I’d pretty well decided not to go.

But the truth is, I want to go.

I believe many of us, Christian and non, want our lives to matter more than they currently do. We want to help other people in meaningful and systemic ways, we just aren’t sure how. So, I’m experimenting with my life and reporting back to you.

And since I am a girl who worries about cultural imperialism, I’m reading When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. This month’s Conde Nast Traveler ran an article entitled Does Voluntourism Do More Harm Than Good? Its author asks:

Wouldn’t it be better, I wonder, if we had just sent money so Grace could hire an all-Haitian crew to build these houses? Aren’t we perpetuating the “white man coming to save us” dependency that has characterized Haiti’s relationship with America ever since the United States occupied the country in 1915?

In the story, aid workers deride the “Matching T-Shirt Brigades”- typically church volunteers who arrive with inadequate skills and little cultural knowledge, to shovel dirt and hand out bible tracts. Not surprisingly, their long-term impact is negligible or damaging. Even Christians like Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, who worked for years in Costa Rica, wrote a six-part blog about the perils of short-term missions.

But remember Christians are literally required by their faith to serve and that’s why they keep showing up in matching t-shirts. So give them some credit for being faithful. Plus, the article says, $15 billion has poured into Haiti and it’s still a mess. So what do you do? I want to obey Jesus’ command to defend the orphan, but I don’t want to just hammer a few 2×4’s, and blithely photograph kids so I can gush about them on Facebook. Nor do I want to use Africa as a key to unlock my own spiritual prisons.

After all, what is the trip about? The mission or the missionary?

“It’s both,” said Holly Garland of SCRUBS Medical Missions. She explains with a story about a deeply burnt out local dentist who went on a trip with them. He came back rejuvenated and excited about serving his people in his own practice. Other missionaries, she said, have never taken another trip because they got so busy serving their own communities. The mission shifted their whole paradigm.

“And we are not the great white hope,” Holly said, adding that humility and relationship-building are at the core of their work. That’s why SCRUBS has committed to work in the same village, with the same pastor. SCRUBS was invited there and it defers to his leadership on development projects.

And they pray for people, sharing what they know about Jesus.

Holly said, one elderly woman had been told God hears only the priest, not her, and his prayers are expensive. The woman cried when Holly told her it wasn’t true. When the village leader asked for a Bible, they gave him one in his language. He had heard of The Proverbs and wanted to try them out in his next conflict.

That doesn’t sound like cultural imperialism to me. It sounds like friendship.

Mother Teresa famously said, people in the west are dying of spiritual disease like people in the east are dying of physical ones. While the people in Chongwe are materially poor, Holly said, they have a strong sense of joy and contentment.

What is the number one struggle in my materially abundant American life? Ironically, it’s contentment. So maybe if I accept, I am just as broken as the villagers of Chongwe, only in different ways, that might keep me from acting like the great white hope. Maybe by humbly offering myself, broken parts and all, God can use the whole thing to help someone else. And that’s what I want.

So yes, it absolutely is about me, just not in the way I thought. I don’t have to have it all figured out, so I can fly to Zambia and get them figured out. Yuck. At best, this trip, if I go, is less a gift from me to them, as an exchange of gifts between us.

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Fill up with Love. Pour out. Repeat.

In a million years, I never thought I’d attend a Christian conference, much less enjoy one. They looked cultish and weird, with fog machines and a band cranking out Jesus songs while people hollered with their arms in the air and tears on their cheeks.

But then I went to one, and for the hundredth time since I began following Jesus like I mean it, I got to admit I was wrong.

How easily we accept the broken state of the world, kind of like we do the presence of smog. We breathe it, we lament it but what can we do?

Christian conferences are a reprieve, because in a stadium filled with people who boldly seek salvation from a God they can’t prove, the smog lifts and the Holy Spirit descends.

I know, because I was at this conference where this artist blew us away with an overhead projector and sand. All weekend, I glimpsed what the brand-new believers felt on the day of Pentecost, when Jesus sent his spirit to inhabit them. I sang with my heart, stood with my hands in the air and hugged the women next to me who I finally realized were my sisters.

Me. The girl who is too smart for all that, fell to her knees and trembled in the presence of God.

It’s hard to go back after that. And it’s painful to walk out of the stadium and into the smog, but that’s what Christians are supposed to do. Fill up with the love of God, then go spill it on people who desperately need it. It’s a system Jesus explained repeatedly to his followers and Jewish religious leaders.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Fill up with love. Pour out love. Repeat.

Have a great weekend.

Try Yoga Free.

yoga

Photo credit: Go Interactive Wellness

One of my goals for 2013 was to begin teaching yoga again.

Lucky for me, a brand new studio with good floors, vintage chandeliers and fairy lights opened up five minutes from my house. Last week I taught my first class in more than a year. The practice is shaking off dust, greasing a creaky joint or two and shedding light on corners I’ve let grow dark and cold.

People often say, ‘I can’t do yoga because I’m stiff,’ but that’s like saying, ‘I can’t go to dinner because I’m hungry.’ If you made a New Years Resolution to try yoga, come see me at Serenity Yoga in Mineola. Your first class is free. Or if you want to try at home first, visit:

Do Yoga With Me -A solid resource, chock full of free yoga classes, taught by good practitioners – some in lovely seaside locations. There are plenty of beginner classes along with anatomy lessons, breathing practices and meditations. All free! You can also purchase dvds to support the site.

mountain yoga

Photo credit: PaddyMurphy

And for my Christian readers who are leery of yoga because of its Hindu roots, please get over it. Yoga isn’t about worship, it’s about mindfulness and practice and growth. Its purpose, as my teacher is fond of saying, is “to impose order on chaos,” to breathe through all manner of stress and challenge; that has practical implications no matter what your faith.

Plus, after a bit of practice, you can stand on your head in stunning alpine locations.

Who doesn’t want to do that?