Equality (part 2)

I have a few thoughts I’d like to share today with you, but first a couple notes… If you haven’t read the first post in this series, you should start here. It lays a good foundation for much of this post.

Second, I have many friends I care deeply about who do not share my same faith values. This post is really meant for those who have chosen to follow Jesus and his teachings as a way of life. If that’s not you, I’d love for you to enter into the conversation, but this doesn’t as much apply without some of the other assumptions we (followers) make. I’ll explain more in a bit.

So you know the statitics are stagering. 80% of the world population lives on less than $10 a day. Nearly 1/2 of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day, and more than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty, less than $1.25 a day. That can be overwhelming. That can also lead to an odd sense of guilt. That vacation to Colorado is a little more bittersweet…burdening us with guilt is not my intention.

While I don’t think we should feel guilty just for having plenty, there is a sense of responsibility those with plenty carry. And this responsibility? Well, my reading from 2 Corinthians this morning speaks directly to this question. This chapter was written to the church in Corinth, but may as well have been written to the chuch in the US. Give this a good read and let it soak in…not words to another group of people in another time, but words to you and I…

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches [you could certainly swap out churches from any developing country (Chris’ interjection)]. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you —see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-15 NIV)

So let’s pause and acknowledge the obvious…this all sounds pretty familiar, right? There are many political systems built on some of those isolated principals, right? Take from those who have and give to those who don’t. Universal health care? Welfare? And on the extreme end of the spectrum – socialism? Now, please don’t get stuck and tear into your political rant of choice. These are not my words…

This conversation and work we are undertaking is difficult. I understand deeply the complications of giving, and fighting poverty. All around me, I see the hurt that good intentions have caused. Every church group that brings down boxes of uniforms the ladies from their church made, strikes a blow to the seamstresses and sewing community I’m investing in. Teams coming down to build houses take the work away from the skilled labor and craftsmen who are sitting, waiting to work. I’m not by no means speaking against these efforts, we just need to acknowledge the complexities and consider the consequences of our good deeds.

Those who “have” clearly have a responsibility to those who do not. In the same way – those who recieve also have a responsibility. Both have responsibilities and both are to be held accountable.

And there it is… the axiom of this conversation…

Accountability.

I have a responsibility…

You have a responsibility…

and we hold each other accountable in love.

This is the only way these things work. We do not only give and receive, we invest ourselves in the people we’re giving to or receiving from. Equality is the goal, but that only works within the context of the other principles of our Christian faith. To give, but not invest in love, leads to resentment and dependency. But to give and to invest in love creates an accountable partnership.

Our school partnership is growing nicely. It’s not without its frustrations. We had a couple students drop out this week and had to kick one out for being disruptive. The machines break about as fast as I can repair them. And the cultural differences are a challenge to work through (sitting in class alone for 30 minutes before the first student shows up still blows my mind). But we work to hold each other accountable in love and grow our partnership.

There’s a lot more to come from our efforts (there are some in the works that are so exciting they keep me up at night). I’m more and more convinced that this is only the beginning of something much bigger than any of us could have ever dreamed.

Thank you for your partnership in this with me. Each of you who support and give and pray and plan are in on this. You partner with me and a community a few miles south. And something beautiful is just beginning to grow out of that partnership.

Press on.

Jonas Doesn’t Float

It was another great day at the school. I’m learning to not worry when no one is in class 5 minutes after our start time. The first time it happened, I was devastated. The second time I was worried, tomorrow… I’m planning on it.

Classes went exceptionally well (albeit much later than planned). Our teachers are settling into a good rhythm, students are starting to get comfortable and both classes love laughing at me as I learn to speak Creole.

After classes today I told Jonas (one of the older boys here) we’d hike down to the waterfall so that I could teach him how to swim. 

After a long hike down to the waterfall (some of you know the hike I’m talking about), we wadded through the water to a clearing with a small pool of water. After carefully inspecting the pool for 5 or 10 mins, Jonas swears he sees something. After searching together we discover a small fresh water crab. At this point Jonas refuses to get in and tells me there’s another waterfall we can go to with a better pool and no crabs. So back up the mountain we go…

The long hike back up the mountain is treacherous… I like to think of myself as a fairly in shape guy… but I almost die every time on this hike.

We make it to the top and down the road to find the location of our next swimming lesson attempt (naturally equally as treacherous). We arrive at a beautiful little river and make our way up stream to a very small pool. After (unsuccessfully) trying to explain to him the physics of floating as a first lesson, he demands I get in and prove that floating is indeed possible. 

*sidenote: I’m convinced every drop of water in Haiti is in the subzero temperatures… showers are short and swimming lessons are breathtaking.

We worked for close to an hour to try to get him to float – I think we finally achieved success (for a very short time) near the end. With a “win” in our pocket, we put our clothes back on to hike back up the mountain and home (he thought before we left, it’d be fun to jump in with our dry clothes on – of course I was in).

On our way back we got lost and found ourselves scaling the sides of mountain ledges to get home.

All this to say… today was great!

I have come to love Jonas. We talked for hours today. About his family, his past, my past, the school, learning English, Creole and French, women, life and love… Those moment with him will be treasured forever.

I was reminded today again that though I’m here to help start a school, it’s all about investing in people. Not people who are desperate that I come to save. It’s people who are imaginative, and creative, and brilliant, and funny and who invest equally (or more) in me. 

There have already in the first week been times of doubt and fear, second-guessing and feelings of inadequacy, but days and moments like this remind me of what I’m really here for. The school could fall apart tomorrow (and I’d be devastated if it did), but the investment that we’re making as I sit beside these students and walk the streets… that will last. And I am grateful. 

Opening Bell

Today was our first day of classes. It was an amazing moment, seeing so many peoples hard work, sweat, and heart come together in one moment. It’s been years of site planning, teams building, dreaming, fundraising… all culminating in one moment. The sound of treadle sewing machines running, Wislande teaching English to 20 Haitian students. What a great moment. I’m sorry there were so many people who have invested so much that didn’t get to share in this moment. But let me assure you all… it was great.

Can’t wait for tomorrow!!!

Love at First Sight

Today the classrooms were full with 30 very excited students, 2 motivated teachers, a proud orphanage director, and a very pumped and over-excited american. We had orientation today for the students to meet the teachers and myself, ask their questions and divide the classes up into the two time spots.

We’ll be doing two classes of each course everyday from 9-10:45 & 11:12:45 (the sewing and english classes will be meeting at the same time for both sessions). The classrooms are ready and all classes are completely filled (we opened a second class for both courses and filled those completely as well). We also have a pretty hefty waiting list for the next time around.

The machines will be the biggest hindrance for us. They are old machines and break frequently. We have a couple electric machines on the way which will be a welcome addition.

We’re a long way from having everything figured out, and I’ll be the first to admit, we’re probably making mistakes. Fighting poverty is such a complex dance at times… to help without hurting longterm is a delicate balance. Good intentions do not always lead to good results. But we’re working hard, praying constantly, and giving the best of ourselves to take steps in the right direction. We’ll be shifting and changing as we grow. But I knew this going in. It’s all a learning process – we teach and we learn, we learn and we change, we change and we grow. Most of all we invest ourselves deeply in this community.

Keep Me In Stitches

Really cool update!!!

A chain of  stores in Tampa called Keep Me In Stitches have agreed to partner with us. They are donating machines and supplies and are asking for your help. You can help by donating at one of their two Tampa locations. And as a bonus, you can save 20% off of your purchase of in-stock notions, fabric, machine accessories and books by making a donation of the above items to School of Blessings by June 30th 2014. Thanks for being a blessing!

We are in need of: fabric, scissors, pins, sewing thread, measuring tapes, patterns, hand sewing needles and truly anything sewing related that could be used in starting a business as a seamstress. This will be an on-going mission as each woman will be supplied with notions, fabric, etc. as she completes the program.

We’d LOVE and be GRATEFUL for your donation of any and all of the above items!! You may drop them off at either store by June 30th. Thank you…

Keep Me In Stitches

4504 W. Kennedy Blvd.
813-282-1526

14833 N. Dale Mabry Highway
813-908-3889

You can learn more about Keep Me In Stitches by visiting:
www.kmisinc.com

 

Montre M

In an effort to adapt and connect, I’m trying to pick up as much Creole as I can. One of the phrases I learned today is going to be very important for my time here. It’s “montre m”. In English, it’s “teach me”. I’ve been walking around the house and property saying it over and over again today.

The orphanage is in constant motion. It’s continually busy with kids working and playing, caretakers cooking and cleaning, men building, people gardening… it’s in constant motion.

I’m working to just fit in with the rhythm here. I’ve made an intentional decision today to lay aside the plan and just connect with people. So I spent the day saying over and over again… “montre m”.

I could very easily overlook spending time with people in the name of getting stuff done – getting the school ready, getting settled… It’s a lesson I learn every time I come here (and something I’m constantly learning at home as well).

So today.. for me, for you… May we all not find our purpose and self esteem in getting stuff crossed off a to do list, but motivated by our love for people and our creator.

 

*** side note – in case you’re wondering about the school… we start next monday. We’ve got teachers lined up and class rooms ready. The English class filled up so quickly that we’ve opened another class (which also immediately filled up). We’ve also filled up the first sewing class and are deciding whether we want to start another class or be ready for our next round. Keep the prayers and encouragement coming… a lot to happen still to get this thing really rolling.

Inequality

I’ve been thinking a lot about inequality lately. I’ve been thinking about it for some time now really. I have trouble understanding why some people are born beautiful and charming and receive the benefits of that, while other people are born with humpbacks and two noses.

…I don’t personally know anyone with two noses, but you nose what I mean (see what I did there?)

We are all born, by no choice or consequence of our own, into a world and set of circumstances. We are born into money, poverty, beauty, deformity, religious communities, political corruption, families who value literacy and peace, rural communities, and many other circumstances, worldviews, and systems.

Clearly, we are all created equal, beautifully unique, and each a walking and breathing miracle. But life does not treat us all the same. And this is where my reflection and understanding cease…

It’s easy to forget the reality of inequality. It’s much easier to just not think about it. So much so, that we create systems, clubs, neighborhoods, churches, HOAs, and borders to distance ourselves from this reality.

Quick and easy exercise…figure out roughly what you live on per day…go ahead, take a second and do it (if you need help, just divide your annual income by 365). Alright, keep that number in your mind for a moment.

Now consider this with me… 80% of the world population lives on less than $10 a day.  Nearly 1/2 of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day, and more than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty, less than $1.25 a day.   It’s easy to read over sentences like those without processing the implications. Mostly, because it’s hard to think about it. That would require us to either choose to ignore it and just go about our lives, or it would require true empathy, which would then lead to action and sacrifice.

I make no attempt to offer solutions. But this all feels important to reflect upon; to have it shape my worldview and how I act and live.

A couple notes that have helped guide some of my thinking and are helping me move further down this road…

It feels important to put ourselves in positions and circumstances with people who are very different than us. And more than just to “be” with those people, we must learn to love (really love) those people. We don’t go on missions trips or volunteer with organizations to fix people – we do it to fix us. Each of us, no matter to what world we were born of, needs help getting our minds off of ourselves. Holding a child at the House of Blessings orphanage on my lap and reading them a story is kind and loving to them; to me, however, it’s critical. Teaching a mom to sew, or a young man to read is so important for them, but it’s critical for those of us who have been given a few more advantages. Every unearned benefit we have is wasted if it’s only spent on ourselves.

Another note – it’s interesting to read the life and teachings of Jesus with this concept in mind; trying to understand the cultural implications of what he was saying; trying to understand how shocking so much of his teachings and actions were (and are). He leveled the playing field – taught us that everyone is equal (a very counter-cultural concept at the time… them not us). He and his teachings were (are) radical. 

That’s what I want my life to look like – one that puts others first and celebrates the beauty God has created in every person. I want a life that fights systems that further inequality; that’s speaks up for the disenfranchised, and empowers those who feel powerless. A life that demands an explanation.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NIV)

The First Day

Made it to the orphanage and school. So great to be back here. The kids were very excited to see me and I was even more excited to see them. Spending most of yesterday and today just being around the orphange and talking with the house moms and kids.

The kids work so hard here every day. I’ve been helping with their daily chores and I’m exhausted. They clean everything everyday, take care of a huge garden, cook and clean the kitchen…they run this house. It’s pretty amazing to see. I think I forget everytime what it’s like here.

This time is interesting for me. All of my previous trips have been with a team. The kids go out of their way to be good hosts for guests who visit. However yesterday at devotions, I explained to them that there are two types of people that come to my house, people who are guests that I host, and people who feel like family who just have to fit it with my daily life. I told them I wanted to be treated like family and just fit in with their normal routine. They all laughed…not sure what that meant. (*update – as I sat reading over this post ready to upload it, one of the kids brought me out breakfast that she had been in the kitchen preparing for me. I think they’re uncomofortable with me just taking care of myself around the kitchen…)

I’ll start working today to get things set up. The sewing machines and student desks are all in and set up. Thank you to all of you who gave money for a machine!

I’ll set them up later today to get better pics once they’re up and running.

Over and over again – things have come together in a very divine way. Big things and little things, but all reassuringly saying…”this is good and right and we need to keep pushing forward.”

Very happy to finally be here and help get these plans that so many have worked toward, actually start happening.

T Minus

We’re about two weeks out from setting off on this adventure. As expected, there’s a huge mix of emotions as things culminate.

I (Chris) have all the travel details finalized. Plane tickets are purchased, lodging is mostly figured out, and a rough schedule for the school is finalized. Fortunately or unfortunately (if I’m honest I’m not completely sure which) it’s too late to back out now.

There’s still a couple big pieces to the story that are missing that keep me up at night. We have an English teacher, but have not yet finalized a sewing instructor. We’ve got some great minds finalizing the sewing curriculum, but currently are still in need of an instructor. We’ve got a couple things in the works, but nothing panning out yet. I could always teach the class myself if somebody doesn’t step up… I mean, how hard could it be right? (Insert copious amounts of sarcastic tone).

The other small item we’re waiting to check off the list is securing the last bit of fundraising. Because of the generosity of some amazing sponsors, the barbecue fundraiser, and the online auction we’ve been able to raise over $5000 to get the school off the ground! I’m in awe and amazed. In just four weeks of fundraising that’s no small task!

To meet our budget we still need to raise another $3500. That’s still a pretty good chunk! My strategic mind badly wants to jump ahead to start figuring out a Plan B if the money doesn’t come in, but my faith and history with a big God who always comes through (sometimes in very unexpected ways) keeps pushing me to hold off.

So there it is…

I tell you these two areas of unrest for two reasons, one, if you’re in a position to help in any way, we need you to step up. Your generosity would be so deeply appreciated and I can assure you your money, time and/or resources would be well invested.

But here’s the second, bigger reason I share these huge obstacles with you…

I’ve been doing the “trusting in God” thing long enough to know that He ALWAYS comes through. Life happens, hearts get broken, dreams shatter, and things fall apart, but my loving God always comes through (even when you and I don’t hold up our end of the deal).

So knowing and being fully confident in these things, I want you to have the opportunity to be in on this miracle with me.

We’ll keep working, believing, praying, and will watch as this adventure unfolds.