Time to go home. As I write this it’s 18 degrees Celsius here and -10 degrees Celsius in Toronto. Time to get out the long sleeve shirt again.
Some random reflections from this past week:
- Despite the extreme poverty, we witnessed a lot of joy here. We saw huge smiles on kids despite their living conditions. In the middle of suffering I witnessed a joy and strength I wasn’t expecting.
- Compassion will only ever reach about 2% of the massive need within this relatively small country. They’re doing great work, but the need is huge. Last night one of the staff said that he goes to bed a lot of nights wishing he could do more.
- Years ago I read the book Bias to the Poor. The thesis of this book is that God is on the side of the poor and against them that oppress them. I never heard that before, but I believe it. This is about the only thing that gives me any hope about the 98% who aren’t receiving the help they need.
- Solutions are complex. I witnessed the North American obsession with fixing things this week. The reality is that we can do some things, but we cannot fix what’s wrong. That shouldn’t stop us from advocacy and compassion, but it should keep us from glib answers.
- We were boggled by the extremes we saw this week. Decrepit shacks about to fall down one day; well-built stables for eighty-thousand dollar horses the next. Watching kids eat simple meals of rice and beans; stopping at a mall or eating at a restaurant later in the day. The most shocking example for me was as I was looking at pictures on my camera, sitting in a project, and came across a picture of our hotel room. It seemed very wrong.
- There are way too many American chain restaurants here. Tony Romas, Quiznos, TGI Friday, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and more.
- I wouldn’t wish our North American lifestyle on the people we met. David Fitch touches on this in The Great Giveaway. Offering the poor a middle-class consumptive lifestyle is far from the solution to anything.
- I expected to have some criticisms of Compassion after I spent a week here. When you spend a week observing a ministry up close, you begin to see the real deal despite the ministry’s efforts to present their best face. Compassion was very open and didn’t try to give a sales job. We could talk to anybody and ask any question with Compassion staff gone, and we did. We met most of the staff in the national office, and it is the most capable group of people I have seen working anywhere. Every time we raised an issue, they had already thought through it and could tell you why they do things the way that they do. This is normal with the top leader, but every staff person could do this. I don’t want to pretend that they are perfect, but I walk away with absolutely no reservations about Compassion’s ministry. It’s unbelievable. In fact, they’ve raised the bar for me.
- I think I now understand some of the differences between Compassion and World Vision. Both are amazing ministries. Compassion’s focus is on child development; World Vision’s is on community development. Both are needed; both have strengths; both have limitations. The one thing I really like about Compassion is that it is holistic and includes a strong spiritual emphasis. With Compassion you know that every child learns of Jesus’ love for them.
- I walk away having to process a lot of things in my life. One middle-class family radically changed their lifestyle so that they could sponsor 30 children. They’re not well-off; they’ve just decided it’s what they have to do. The wife quit her job and spends time writing to each of the kids. We still have to process a lot, but it’s hard to walk away from here without thinking that something has to change about the way that we spend our money.
- By the way, if you ever sponsor a child, choose one from a country that you think you might visit one day. If you have a sponsored child, please write. It means more to them than I could have imagined.
We’re going home having to process a lot. The scary thing is that normal life resumes tomorrow and a lot of this will get quickly lost if we let it. We have a lot of thinking and praying to do.
I wish I could bring a ton of people down here. There’s a lot of stuff you really have to see firsthand. If you ever get a chance to come, please grab it.
If you are sponsoring a child or thinking of it (you can sign up online at Compassion), you should know that it’s a very good investment in the life of a child. The $35 a month is only a start. I’ve seen the finances, and the kids get over $40 of ministry every month for every $35 we donate in sponsorship, and every penny is spent wisely. And that’s just the money. It really does make a difference.
Got to go to pack. We’ll keep thinking.