Rich and Poor | The Question That Wrecked Us Both

The last time Maureen, a child of poverty who now leads the organization in Kenya that Mercy House partners with, spent a few weeks in our home, it wrecked me. That’s what happens when you see your first world life through the eyes of someone from the third world.

When she saw five bikes hanging in our garage, she wanted to know if we sold bicycles. Why else would we have so many?

This visit has been different and the same. This time she’s not shocked seeing so many pet stores and pet hospitals. She’s not surprised by the ease of traffic-free roads or convenience of thirty minute meals. She loves America even though she doesn’t always understand it.

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I feel the same.

Driving home the other day, she asked if she could see a mansion. She’d heard about them. We laughed and said, sure.

As Terrell drove slowly thru a multi-million dollar neighborhood with sprawling lawns, massive front porches attached to 7000 square foot homes, Maureen took it all in. She asked a lot of hard questions that were even harder to answer. Only one family lives in this big house? Why?

She suggested we knock on their door and tell them about Mercy House.

We passed an enormous house decorated extravagantly for Halloween with spider webs and skulls and a graveyard complete with headstones. Try to explain that to someone who spent the first decade of her life scrounging for food in a dump.

It was sort of embarrassing seeing it through her eyes. (And it also terrified her, “I could never sleep there.”)

And then she said these words and they rocked me to the core.

“Do you remember when I led you into the slum in Kenya five years ago for the first time and you were angry at God?” Yes, I remember. I will never forget that day.

As I followed the raw sewage coursing its way into the heart of hell, I shook my fist at Heaven and asked: “God, how can you allow this?”

That’s how I feel today, she said. God how can you allow this?

How can you allow so much wealth when there are so many poor?

How do you explain something you don’t understand? How do you explain something you’re guilty of? Maybe this is the answer.

America is a land of opportunity. It’s the place where we can achieve all we want and more. But just because we have everything we want, should we get more? It’s a hard question only we can answer. Because this isn’t really about the size of a home or car or bank account. It’s not about guilt or lifestyle–it’s about the size of our heart.

Because I know people who have a lot and give a lot. I know people who have nothing and give even more.

Last week, I stirred up a lot of comments (and controversy) when I challenged the world to stop giving their crap to the poor. I’ve thought a lot about my own words and the ones that challenged mine.

I’ve come to realize it’s not really about what we choose to give, it’s our motive for giving it. Because if we give with a generous, good heart, we will give our best. And God honors that.

I love the story of the widow’s mite. She was a poor woman giving what she had. She dropped those pennies into the plate and it looked like nothing. Maybe even crap. But it was all she had and it was more than the wealthy man in line behind her. And it pleased God.

I have seen poverty through my eyes and it caused me to ask “How can I allow this? What am I doing about it?”

And now I’ve seen my wealth through the eyes of the poor and I’m asking the same thing.

Today, Maureen leaves the Land of Plenty and I’ve got plenty to think about.

Dear World: Let’s Stop Giving Our Crap to the Poor

I was getting ready to leave for a trip to Kenya a couple of years ago, when a church emailed and asked if Mercy House had any specific needs. I quickly responded and told them I wanted to give Maureen, our Kenyan Director, an iPhone, so we could communicate during (almost weekly) power outages. I told them if they would buy one instead, we could use the money for other needed items.

On the church’s Facebook feed a few days later, I saw an appeal that said something like, “We want to support a ministry with a used iPhone. If you have an old one you can donate, please let us know.”

I was given an older iPhone a week later. On the ground in Kenya, I realized it wouldn’t hold a charge for more than 10 minutes. The phone was junk.

So, when I left Kenya, I gave Maureen my used one that worked.

The church contacted me after the trip and asked how Maureen liked her new phone? I told them it was useless and said, “Don’t worry about it. I gave her mine.”

“Oh, we feel badly, please let us replace your phone! We want to buy you a brand new one, an upgrade. You deserve it,” I told them I used my husband’s upgrade and already had a replacement phone. “Ok. Instead we would like to write you a $500 check for the inconvenience.”

Give it to Maureen, I said.

And they did.

Dear World Lets Stop Giving Our Crap to the Poor

While the church tried to make it right, I was bothered by the fact they were more than willing to buy me a new phone I didn’t need. I have noticed this mentality permeates the Church as a whole: The poor will be happy with our leftovers. They don’t know any better. They live in Africa or Honduras, they don’t need the latest technology or the best brands like we do.  They will appreciate anything we give because something is more than nothing.

Why do we give others-often those in service to the poor or the poor themselves-something we wouldn’t keep or give ourselves?

Somehow collecting clothes for immigrants has become the perfect opportunity to get rid of stuff we don’t want and gathering baby items for new moms is the perfect excuse to toss out stained and worn clothing we wouldn’t dare use again. I’ve packed suitcases with beautiful donations, but mostly I’ve pilfered through piles of junk donated in the name of Jesus.

It’s time to stop giving our crap to the poor.

There’s nothing wrong with used or second-hand. It’s often my first and favorite choice. Many organizations and ministries depend on used gifts. But if we give used, it should be our best.  I’m not saying when we clean out older clothes or toys or things we don’t use any longer and donate them–that this is wrong. I am saying if we give it away, it should be something we would use ourselves.

The poor may not have wealth, but they have dignity. I’ve met people without electricity or running water who swept their dirt floors daily, pressed their clothes neatly, walked miles to work on muddy roads, dodging sewage and never had a speck of dirt on them. They value their own worth, we should too.

I’ll never forget meeting a woman in Africa who supported her large family by reselling used clothes from America. But when she held up clothes to show me what was for sale– clothes Americans had donated in clothing drives–they were tattered and stained. I was embarrassed.

Her best depended on our worst.

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Just because our donation feels like we are helping, in reality, we could be hurting. Bales of used clothes are sold to African countries for resell and they end up flooding the market and often put local textile businesses and seamstresses out of business.

It’s time to think about not only what we give and how we give it, but also why we give it. Just because it makes us feel better (and cleans out our garage at the same time), doesn’t mean it’s the best for those in need. Perhaps we should look a little deeper into our hearts and wallets when we can say, I don’t have money to give to the poor, but I have a lot of stuff. Maybe we need to buy less stuff, so we have more to give?

“We’re not giving what we’re called to give, unless that giving affects how we live — affects what we put on our plate and where we make our home and hang our hat and what kind of threads we’ve got to have on our back. Surplus Giving is the leftover you can afford to give; Sacrificial Giving is the love gift that changes how you live — because the love of Christ has changed you. God doesn’t want your leftovers. God wants your love overtures, your first-overs, because He is your first love.” -Ann Voskamp

There have been times over the years, I’ve gasped and grinned at the beautiful items I’ve sorted and packed  for the impoverished. When we give our best, we are living our best. We are saying with our donation, you are valuable. We are whispering with our gift, you are worthy of the best. We have the opportunity to speak self worth when we give generously.

It’s a promise for them.

It’s a promise for us.

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”- Proverbs 19:17

The next time we have the opportunity to share what we have with someone who is in need. let’s give from the pile we want to keep, not from the one we want to throw out.

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Redemption on a Friday

It was a Friday last December when I met Jessica.

My first grader had been telling me about a new girl in her class. She moved to our small Texas town from Ethiopia.

My interest was peeked: What was she doing in Ethiopia? Why was she here? 

My little girl sighed at all my questions. “I’m only six, Mom. You should ask her mother.”

And that’s what I did at the class Christmas party the next week. On a Friday.

Jessica was crocheting a last-minute coffee cozy to go with her teacher’s gift. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to do that,” I said and I introduced myself.

I learned they were missionaries, moved back home unexpectantly, temporarily living with family. They were in limbo, both feet in two worlds.

I knew exactly how that felt.

A few weeks later, on a Friday, I found myself in a room filled with displaced refugees. I was teaching loom knitting without much of a plan or skill–go ahead and laugh, it’s funny.

I started looking forward to Fridays–not because I knew what I was doing, but because it felt right. I had found a gaping need close to home, a place for me to get my hands dirty, an opportunity to obey. This little class would eventually become The Refugee Project, now led by a friend of mine.

I remembered Jessica crocheting in the corner of the classroom and I had a feeling she had some free time, so I asked her to help me help the refugees on Fridays.

On the long trips back and forth to serve these lovely refugees in our city, we became friends. Our families became friends.

I learned their story, although different than ours, it was still the same, filled with beauty and brokenness. I couldn’t believe how God allowed our paths to cross with this family who worked on the continent we loved to empower widows and single moms, the oppressed with employment in the name of Jesus.

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I don’t remember exactly where or when it happened, but I shared the nagging dream God had given me for a club for women to help women and after seeing the start of a community outreach in Kenya to young mothers, I knew it was time.

 

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And that’s when Fair Trade Friday was born.

In the past few weeks, I’ve talked to missionaries in Costa Rica who work with very poor women in the mountains who will now have a steady income. It leaves me speechless. We are partnering with women who sew in India, and soap makers in Zambia and apron makers in Rwanda to fill our Fair Trade Friday boxes with amazing product.

They have all said the same thing: this is an answer to their prayers.

And I can’t tell you how much this little idea has restored and renewed me. Rather than be constraining and confining, its felt like freedom.

On launch day, with a bulging Club Membership and hundreds on a waiting list, Jessica and I celebrated.

Sometimes you wonder if your yes matters. It always does–through success or failure–it’s not about the result, it’s about the obedience.

But then sometimes, it’s so obvious that God is in charge and you laugh at your doubts and worry and sleepless nights. “I’m amazed,” I told her.

“Yes, it’s crazy–all of it,” she agreed. I knew she was talking about much more than Fair Trade Friday. She was talking about our entwined lives, the common purpose, the opportunity to serve and help so many women.

“This is redemption. This is what God does with brokenness. He repurposes it,” The words caught in my throat.

God doesn’t waste a broken piece of our life. He uses every shattered dream, every hopeless moment for His glory.

And He does it when we least expect it.

Sometimes it gives us another reason to look forward to Friday.

 

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The Deadly Truth About Living Wild Obedience

Two nights ago I stood at a podium in front of a room full of women at the Declare Conference.

I trembled.

I’d spent the day preparing for the final keynote of the conference, but it wasn’t a bad case of nerves that made me quake.

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It was the message.

Wild obedience.

The words were splayed behind me in bold letters. Every session, every message was built around the theme, written on cute cards on the tables, temporary tattoos and across the top of my notes.

I’ve never been wild a day in my life.

I don’t have stories that would shock you.

I’m not a risk-taker.

I’m not brave.

I’ve always been a rule follower.

And safety has been my favorite.

I think that’s why my story is surprising.

Because when you understand how afraid I am, you understand just how far wild obedience can take you. I am not brave. I’m the last person in the world who should be doing what I do.

I always knew I wasn’t wild, but it’s taken me most of my life to discover I wasn’t always obedient either.

When I was 12 years old, I had been in church a decade already. I was raised there. I had every Christian t-shirt, knew every Bible story, attended every Bible study offered. I wore a rhinestone Jesus pin to high school and the campus Bible club.

From there I went to Bible College, married a pastor and attended church staff meetings-all good, but somewhere along the way, I got fat, I was full of faith, comfortable.

I started buying into the American dream and I stopped obeying God.

And the more comfortable I got, the emptier I felt.

I had everything.

I had nothing.

I woke up in a slum in Kenya. I wrote every excruciating broken piece of my journey in Rhinestone Jesus.

And for the last 5 years, I’ve been learning that wild obedience will demand that you leave the safety of the shore and push out into deeper water.

Wild obedience will take you to impossible places. It doesn’t demand experience or education.

Wild obedience will stretch you and make you uncomfortable. It will cost you more than you want to give up, but it will give your more than you’ve ever had.

Wild obedience will point you to your purpose in life and fill you with peace. It will replace your carefully planned life with audacious faith and impossible dreams.

Wild obedience will insist that you Get alone and be with God.

Wild obedience will rescue you from you.

But as I heard my own words, I couldn’t help but think about the images of children reportedly being beheaded in Iraq or recall the headlines screaming “Convert or Die” to believers on the other side of the world.

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While I’m eating chocolate cake at a Christian conference about wild obedience, there is a Christian genocide happening. While I’m worrying about first world problems at home, things that don’t matter–crimes against humanity are going on.

It’s easy to talk about it, write about it, build a conference around the bold statement–but with a gun to my head, could I live it? Would I allow my innocent child to be murdered for my wild obedience?

I don’t know.

Iraq is far away. It’s easy to turn the news off and even easier to turn away from the truth.

It’s easy to keep living like people aren’t dying.

Our yes to God could lead us into unthinkable situations, even into danger. But we are not called to be safe, we are called to be obedient.

Because obedience is safe. 

Our faith demands we do more than believe and talk about it. We cannot look away or pretend it’s not real.

We must boldly live what others are dying for.

God have mercy on the dying and the living.

That’s the truth about wild obedience.

 

 

4 Ways Serving Others Turned My Home Right Side Up

My day started long before my kids awoke.

When they stumbled down the stairs in search of breakfast, I was meeting with someone at the kitchen table, notepads out, laptops open. I asked my kiddos if they slept well and then pointed them towards a do-it-yourself breakfast.

I returned to my meeting for the next hour and they got ready for the day and entertained themselves upstairs.

The rest of the day looked much the same–a Skype session in Kenya, and a Fair Trade Friday planning meeting. I was busy and they kept themselves busy with library books, Legos, laundry and Minecraft.

Thankfully, I have a flexible schedule. This isn’t my everyday, but it’s often because I work from home.

At one point, I had a pang of guilt at my busy day, even though most of it was built around serving others. I remembered the countless summer days in the past where we spent most days doing something fun–either crafting or at the local pool with snow cone breaks and day trips in-between.

Of course, we still have those days.

But something amazing happened when we transitioned from a child-centered home to an others-centered one with Jesus as our focus: my kids stopped demanding that every day, every moment, be about them, for them.

I did, too.

My husband led Bible Study a couple of weeks ago for families in our weekly House Church. I cringed when he described how we spent the first 15 years to ourselves. We rarely invited people over to our house. We rarely reached out to others. Everything was about us. It wasn’t all bad either–we did devotions with our kids, attended church regularly, led a safe and comfortable life. But it was missing something.

We served only ourselves.

But when we refocused our home and made Christ the center, it changed everything.

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A normal day now might include rolling yarn balls during movie time that we will pass out to the refugee class we serve at on Fridays. That’s not to say we don’t have idle hours and leisure days–we do. They are a must!

But I don’t think we realized how often we served ourselves until we began serving others. It’s hard to do both–put yourself or even your family first when you’re putting someone else’s needs before your own.

Serving has changed our family. It has turned us right -side up.

We are still a messy family. But I’m learning everyday that “God wants us right in the middle of our mess because it’s the perfect place for Him to shine through our imperfections.” Rhinestone Jesus.

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4 Things Serving Will Do For Your Family:

  1. Serving will reveal our family’s ingratitude- Yeah, yikes, huh? Nothing has exposed our humanity and self-centered ways more than serving others. There have been many instances when we just didn’t want to put others before ourselves. There has been grumbling and complaining in the midst of serving. It’s revealed selfishness in my family. But we can’t improve without realizing first how hard serving actually is.
  2. Serving will get our eyes off ourselves- It’s harder to be selfish and only think about ourselves when we are exposed to those who have less and need more, it’s changes our perspective. A change of perspective is one of the best gifts we can offer our families.
  3. Serving will ignite compassion for others- Even if we don’t see it immediately, serving changes our family. We can’t always see growth, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. When we make serving a part of our regular lives, it can’t help but change us.
  4. Serving will renew our family’s gratitude- Just as serving brings out our ingratitude at times, it also give us an opportunity for gratitude. It feels good to give to others and reminds us of the blessings in our lives.