poverty, perspective, and a surprising sense of peace as I re-acculturate

It’s been interesting processing my trip to Ethiopia over the past few days.  Oftentimes people who have visited or served in developing areas will describe a process of re-acculturation, in which they resume their lives with a new lens.  This phenomenon is usually accompanied by a series of revelations involving a renewed sense of gratitude, a changed perspective of the world, frustration with the excesses of American materialism, and a vow to make sweeping changes.  I’ve done a lot of mission trips, and I’ve gone through this process many times before. 

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The funny thing is, I didn’t this time.  I didn’t come back with feelings of guilt, or frustration. I’m not berating myself for not feeling grateful every.single.day. I’m not making promises to live differently.  I’m actually . . . oddly . . . feeling peaceful about the whole thing.

It’s hard to explain, but I think it hinges on the fact that previously, I felt like trips like this exposed me to The Problem of poverty. This trip exposed me to the solution, and how I’m a part of that solution.

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There is a part of me that has wondered why I’m not feeling more emotional after this trip.  But I was reminded of the church camps of my youth . . . trips on which I was constantly going through a process similar to the one I described above . . . . feeling moved, recommitting my life, making grand gestures of radical life change, and then promptly forgetting my fervor a few months after returning.  Eventually, my faith morphed into something more mature, as I came to the realization that perhaps God isn’t looking for grand gestures or altar calls or public campside commitments to move to Africa.  Perhaps he’s just looking for quiet, stable obedience.

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I feel like that was the lesson of this trip as well. I’ve done a lot of travel and I’m intentional about understanding the world outside the US, so I was not surprised or shocked by the poverty I saw, nor was I confronted with the startling reality of my own privilege for something as arbitrary as being born in the right country.  I’ve long abandoned any impulse to ignore my seat at the privileged table. That denial mechanism flew out the window when I survived the earthquake in Haiti and, after several days of pure hell in which I felt an insane and indelible bond to the people there, I boarded a plane and flew away. “Thanks for the memories, guys. You can continue to pick through this rubble and rebuild. My country just sent a plane for me. So.”

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I’ve come to terms with these realities.  While I am still disgusted, I’m no longer shocked or surprised.   I’ve moved through the stages of grief in regards to social injustice . . . . out of denial (where I think most Americans reside) and past bargaining and anger (the place most people visit after their first trip to a developing country).  Now, I’m living in acceptance of the problem, but also finding ways to mitigate the problem. I think that’s where the peace is coming from.  I’m no longer screaming and stomping my feet about the unfairness of it.  I’m doing something about it . . . and this trip showed me in tangible ways exactly what I’m doing.

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It came be overwhelming coming face to face with poverty on a global scale. I remember expressing feelings of futility at the vastness of the problem, and a wise friend telling me, “You can’t solve the whole problem yourself. But you can pick a field, and work that field to the best of your ability”.  My trip with Food for the Hungry allowed me to see a field I’ve picked, and how they are bringing about dramatic change for that group of people.

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The one source of tension I’ve had, in getting back to my regular routine, is the fact that I had some sponsored posts scheduled upon my return. These were weighing heavily on me, because really, how does one segue from talking about poverty and orphans to a Pantene giveaway?  It’s awkward, and suddenly everything else feels silly and trite. But then I was reminded of something The Nester said after a similar trip with Compassion, in a post called The African Elephant in the Room:

And I think about what they would do.  Because I know if our roles were switched these maternal ladies would sponsor my child in a heartbeat and they would do whatever it was that God gifted them to do in whatever crazy field that was in order to make that happen and make no apologies.  And I think they would tell me to do the same.

And so I trudge on, because the work I do, however silly it sometimes seems, is how we are able to afford to sponsor 5 children, and to support a variety of other NGO’s that we believe in, like Heartline’s Maternity House, God’s Littlest Angels, Mercy House KenyaSolidarity, and Krochet Kids in Peru.  While we aren’t picking up and moving to the field, we are doing the part we can to support those who do . . . and that’s gratifying.

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Ultimately this is why I feel positive after this trip. I feel good about playing a part with Food for the Hungry and I feel glad that this blog has allowed me to advocate for them, and hopefully exponentially grow the number of children whose lives are changed through sponsorship. I never knew where this blog would lead and this feels like a full-circle moment. Being invited made my purpose in this blogging space sort of “click” for me.  I feel proud to play a part with Food for the Hungry, and hopeful that this trip means some of you might get that experience, too.  I know not everyone can visit Ethiopia, but I’m hoping that my trip has moved you out of denial, and I hope you’ll join me in moving into a resolve to action.

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{photos by David Molnar}


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