Thursday, June 29, 2017

Be burdened

A recent team member asked Suzy if she is ever burdened by the poverty and need she encounters here in Honduras.  She responded by telling a humorous story about being a "fool for Christ" when she knowingly was scammed at the airport by a man selling her a very rare and valuable "bonzai" tree.  All the Hondurans witnessing this sale were frantically gesticulating that she should not buy what was obviously just a twig stuck in dirt.  "I could see that he probably had children at home wondering if there would be food on the table that night."  She also pointed out that, although there was some fabrication in his pitch, he wasn't stealing or committing a crime.  She also recounted another conversation about a man with one arm who looks for help at the very busy intersection by the airport.  He is bright, well-spoken, and otherwise healthy.  "Wouldn't you rather work?" she asked.  "No one will hire me," was the response.  True enough.  In a country with over 50% unemployment, why would you hire someone with one arm when you can two for the price of one?  So, he dodges traffic looking for a couple lempira or two (just pennies) from cars stopped at the light.

All of us living here have these experiences day in and day out. Sometimes I will go a couple of days without being approached and some days I can't walk 10 feet without coming across someone in need.  At times, especially when I am exhausted or stressed, it is overwhelming.  I just want to cry out, "Go away!  Leave me alone!"  I am heavily burdened by the sadness, the unrelenting need, and the feeling of being so small, just one person.   I am tempted to look away, to change my path to avoid the disabled person, to ignore the dirty face of the hungry child.

As I reflected on the team member's question, I realized the problem is not being burdened.  The real problem is when we are NOT burdened.   God calls us to be burdened, from the Old Testament: 

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ - Deuteronomy 15:11

To the New Testament: 

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 
- 1 John3:17

These are not gentle suggestions. These are imperatives.  When we follow these imperatives, no matter how burdening or inconvenient or expensive, we are richly rewarded, not just in the next life, but in this life.  You receive hugs from children clutching a toy from a just eaten Happy Meal, a prayer from a grateful mom and even two little chicks from an older man.

A final story.  A confession.  I have a large "airport family" of baggage handlers, money changers, disabled adults, and poor families.  We love each other, ask about each other's families, help each other out, and pray for one another.  A couple of years ago, I noticed an older unshaven man hanging around the outskirts of my team as they loaded the bags into the van.  He had a hopeful look but said nothing as I paid the baggage guys.  I made a snap decision that he was a drunk and ignored him.  This scene repeated itself over the next few weeks.  Although I wasn't rude, I wasn't kind to him.  One day I was waiting for a team and he approached me.  I noticed his hands were shaking.  "Are you okay?" I asked pointing to his hands.  "I have Parkinson's.  I used to have a job but now I can't work."  Do you know what the sword of guilt feels like as it pierces your heart?  I do.  I learned a valuable lesson.  Never judge.  Roberto and I have become fast friends.  One day, recently, he asked when I would be back at the airport because he was going to bring me 2 "pollitos."  (baby chicks)  I was inwardly alarmed (what am I going to do with baby chicks???) but smiled and thanked him in advance.  Sure enough, the next week he gingerly handed me a bag.  "Careful.  There are 2 pollitos inside." Honestly, I was afraid to look inside!  I waited until I got to Casa LAMB so I could ask Dulce and Gloria what to do with them.  I opened the bag to find this:

I love my pollitos and the accompanying scented roses.  So, be burdened and you will be richly blessed.

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. Hebrews 6:10

4 comments:

  1. Amanda, thank you so much for this reminder to be burdened! Thank you for sharing your stories.

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  2. As always, thank you for sharing!

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  3. Wonderful story

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  4. What I run into is the constant experience in the U.S. of being considered prey for people trying to extract my dwindling funds. The worst are not the fake poor with their fake cardboard signs and fake student costumes, but rather the institutions bilking people with unconscionable fees, pharmaceutical companies with their monopolistic pricing, and so on. When I return to the U.S. from other lands, poorer lands, I feel that grey curtain descending--the filter between me and those who see me only as someone to exploit. (I should add the latest of these, the foreign con men who originate semi-literate robo-calls claiming to be from the IRS--the latest in the gigantic industry extracting money from elders and innocents via computer and phone.) With my guard always up, my suspicions always aroused, always ready to meet the guy with the empty gas can asking for money to get his car home...such a common scam these days that it was the premise of a skit on Key & Peele... The idea of rewarding these scammers for their scams is repugnant to me. Yet even as I feel prey to scammers going door to door selling fake magazine subscriptions in the guise of eager, hopeful students, I know that the poor often feel prey to people like me who have so much more. So there it is... for me, the tension between self-protection immersed in a culture of exploitation and caveat emptor, and the desire to heed the Biblical imperative (common to all the great religions--precisely what makes a religion a "great religion"). This will only get worse. The technology for fooling people into parting with their money will only improve, at all levels... and the number of unemployables will increase as they are automated out of their jobs (or maybe never held what I consider a job). It is in these situations, where there seems no way out and that things are likely only to get worse, that people who see things that way call for revolution or glom onto self-proclaimed messiahs. How fine in such confusion to have the clear words of Authenticity to help us find the way home.

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