Confessions from an American to the Third World

As I was working out at the gym today, I thought how absurd it would be to tell someone in a third world country that I pay money to sit on a bike in an air conditioned room (after I explained what A/C is) and pedal to nowhere because I am trying to lose weight. That would be confusing on so many levels! So I then began to think of some of the other ways I live my life  that I would be ashamed to admit to someone living in third world poverty.  Here are my confessions…..

When I get up in the morning, I flip on a light, flush the toilet, turn on a coffee maker, watch the news on my big TV, take clothes out of the dryer, and start my dishwasher.

I know you get up in the dark, go to the bathroom in the woods, make coffee by hand over an open fire, walk 2 hours to get 5 gallons of water and wash clothes in the same stream (which will take all day) and come home to cook for 4-5 hours and wash the dishes in the little bit of the 5 gallons you got early this morning. What took me 10 minutes will take you 10 hours. I get that.

Making coffee

Getting water from the water source

Washing dishes
Washing clothes

I drive my kids to school (we live about 2 miles from their schools) and pick them up in the afternoons.

I know you send your kids walking to school usually around sunrise and they might walk 2-3 hours. I get that.

 

Walking to school

My kids get a hot lunch in the school cafeteria every day and have many choices of different fresh fruits and vegetables. They also get real milk every single day.

I know your kids are fed beans and rice almost every day in school, except for those days when the school cannot afford to feed them. I get that.

Eating lunch
Cooking for the 300 students in a Haitian school

When my kids don’t like what is on their plate for dinner we usually throw it away. America wastes 34.7 million tons of food a year.

I know you waste nothing. You probably have never thrown food away. I get that.

Eating every last bite
Americans spend an average of $765 a year at Christmas, which is about what my family spent this year. Christmas is that holiday that you only know as a celebration of Jesus’ birth, but we go blow a bunch of money on people who don’t usually NEED anything. 

I know you have never been able to buy your child a toy.  I get that.

                Toy made by a child              Playing with blocks
With my husband’s job, I have something we call health insurance which helps pay for me to go to the doctor. If people in America have an emergency and do not have insurance they can go the hospital and the doctor will see them.
I know that before you are seen by a doctor, you pay first. If you cannot pay they turn you away at most hospitals and clinics. I get that.
Thyroid condition gone untreated
 If you had a condition that needed treatment like orthopedics, burn care, spinal cord injury, or cleft palate in the US, we have organizations like the Shriners who see you, regardless of your ability to pay.
I know that both of you just recently saw a doctor for the first time and have lived with your conditions, wondering why you were different from everyone else you knew. I get that.
Jean Marc, 22 years old                  Saintelise, 14 years old

In America, 27.7% of the people are obese, which means very fat. The weight loss industry is worth 20 billion dollars and we are still fat. Me included.

I know your biggest concern is being malnourished and underweight. I get that.

Food scarcity
In America, we have laws that require children to get schooling and prohibits them from working until they are a certain age.

 

Working to help the family
I know that your children learn to work at a very young age in order to survive and sometimes they don’t go to school because your spouse died and you cannot feed the family on your own. I get that.
And why do I say all this? To make Americans feel bad for all they have and to make the third world feel that they have been given a bad deal in life? Not at all.
What I do want to say to America is….you need to know how the rest of the world lives. Period. You need to see it, experience the joys and the pain of it and then let God do the work in you. I have no idea what that will be for your life but once you have witnessed it, you will be different. I am suggesting that you consider making your world bigger……that you increase the borders of your life. Maybe you have reduced your world to just your family, or just your city or country. There is room in your life for the rest of the world too. I promise. God will not call you to everyone all over the world but I am confident he will call you SOMEWHERE. The confessions in this blog are about my own life- not yours. So don’t get all hot and bothered that I made you feel bad. I was only stating the truth and hopefully that got you thinking. That is my only hope for writing to you.
What I want to say to the third world is….you need to know that we are really working hard here in America to be more compassionate and less judgmental of your circumstances. We say things like “We take care of our own” and that is pure ignorance but we are asking God to give us new eyes to see beyond ourselves. Please be patient with us.  Also, when we see you work tirelessly to survive we don’t really understand how hard it is but we are trying to “walk a mile in your shoes.”  I know this sounds crazy, but we are actually very jealous of the simplicity of your lives and the character that you exhibit. Because we don’t have to overcome as many obstacles, we don’t learn lessons about perseverance, dependence on God for everything, and sacrifice the way you do. We want kids who are hard workers, not entitled, and dedicated the way yours are but the bottom line is that most of our kids are nowhere close to that. We try so hard to teach these lessons but we get caught up in making our kids “happy” and not “holy” so we miss the mark. Please pray for us and our children. Finally, the the most important point I want to make is this….YOU make me brave. You teach me every time I see you and I strive to be more courageous because I know you. Thank you for that gift.

How can we simplify?

I came home from this trip to Haiti in the worst “missionary fog” I have had to date- I have made about 16 trips in the past 5 years and never felt so displaced when I arrived back in the US.  Feeling completely disconnected to America with its Black Friday deals and elaborate Christmas trees, I have been finding myself slipping on a slope of unrest.  It is completely overwhelming to leave extreme poverty and after a 2 hour plane ride find yourself in the US with all its glitz and glamour. The distance between my two worlds is not far on a map but different in every other way imaginable. Lack and excess. It is really hard to put my brain around it most days.

Spending Thanksgiving in Haiti surrounded by sweet friends and microwave mashed potatoes and canned ham felt like the best place on earth. The majority of us decided it was the best tasting turkey day feast we had ever experienced.

Sitting on a bucket on top of a mountain surrounded by friends and family felt like the best escape from the hustle and bustle of the States.

Getting to experience Haiti with my husband and 3 of my 4 sons for the first time was amazing.

Being able to pull up 5 gallons of water from our cistern to serve each of the children in our school a cup of Tang was a blessing.

Knowing our students are getting lunch after 3 months when we could not feed them was a huge relief.

Seeing the first bathroom we have been able to afford to build for the 300 students in our school was exciting.

 Hearing my husband preach to a congregation hungry for the Word was…well, the best.

Watching my friend, Victoi, soak up the words of her Bible was humbling.

Seeing my children unite with the Haitian children around the game of soccer was very moving.

So how do I bring the lessons I learn in Haiti back with me? How am I different because of what I have learned there?

It starts with priority. What really matters?  1. Sharing the Gospel 2. Education 3. Clean water. 4. Food

Those are what matter to me for ALL people. They are essential. The rest doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. When it all comes down to it, we have more so we can be a blessing. Show love to others. Give sacrificially. Make a difference.  So my question to you is……

How can we simplify this holiday season? How can we teach our kids that Christmas is not all about them and their presents?  How can we be ok with less so others can have more?

I want to be different than the typical American family. I want to show love to the marginalized and the lonely. I want to go with less so others can have more.

Anyone else want to take the challenge?

Bring on the rain…..

I have complained at least 10 times a day for the past few weeks about the constant rain.  The pool is overflowing, our road is flooded, the grass is growing too fast, baseball games cancelled, and my hair turns into a frizzy hot mess!  
Then this morning it hit me….

Water.  A necessity but a scarcity for so many.  Walking hours just to fetch water.
And then only having the amount that you can carry on your head.

Contaminated water.
Sometimes just a trickle of water coming out of the source.

Most not having a simple rain barrel.

Washing clothes and dishes conserving every drop of water.


In Haiti we have a school that has grown from 40 students 5 years ago to 300 children currently and there was not a way to catch the rain until recently.  We had a cistern built but no gutters.

Then we built a gutter system.

The cistern had been empty for months but we waited and prayed for rain.
The team was ecstatic about the new gutters but still no rain.  We waited and prayed for rain.

Then it came and it did not stop.  And we hoped it wouldn’t.  In that moment, we knew the importance of the rain.  That is sustains life.  That it is essential to living.  We were not thinking about the inconveniences of the rain or the slippery mountain mud that we would have to endure after the storm.  We were only grateful for the fresh drops of cool rain that poured from the sky.  We were content and not complaining.  
We knew the blessing of the rain.
And the next day the community had water in the cistern that saved them a 3 hour round trip hike to the water source.
So today I have a new attitude about the rain.  As I see it come down, I think about my friends in Haiti who count on it to survive. To boil their rice, to drink a few sips, and wash their few bowls and forks.
I pray one day every single person in our village in Haiti has a rain barrel.
I am hopeful that my inconveniences won’t consume my thoughts but that I would be radically changed because I have seen the need.  Once you have seen you can’t stay the same.  I slip into my little pity parties and God drags me out and reminds me that there is work to be done and there is no time for being consumed with what does not matter for eternity.
Bring on the rain.