#9–Shower.

Tonight at work a woman came in with a Justin Bieber backpack, shorts, and some funky shoes and tangled hair. I guess she comes in a couple times a week, I’d never seen her before, or never noticed. She apparently comes in to use our sink in the bathroom to bathe. My heart goes out to her because if she’s bathing in the bathroom at a Starbucks she must be pretty dwindled on options. It appeared she had a friend with her tonight as well.

Now I don’t know her story or who she is. Obviously she didn’t order anything. She also didn’t make eye-contact. And that was it, she was in and out, she walked by us. It was simple as that.

I’ve just gotten home from work and cleaned off all the grit and grime from my day… I’m thankful for a shower. I’ve never been somewhere where I did not have a shower or did not have access to a shower. And I’ve been a lot of places where I’ve seen homes that did not… but I have never had to experience that… and I’m grateful.

I think just how new clothes can give you a self-esteem boost, the inability to be really clean would be disheartening, it would wear on you, it would be hard to have self-esteem. It would be hard to have self-respect.

Restoring self-respect to people in physical poverty is a goal of the Kingdom. And tonight I really want to dwell on that thought. I hope I see her again and can talk to her. I want to know who she is.

Looking at Poverty but Seeing People

I won’t say that I have seen a lot of poverty, but I am aware of it, I have seen it. The poor have always been close to my heart. The places I saw in Colombia were nearly unbearable situations, shanties made of found materials, entire peoples displaced by guerrilla warfare, 12 year old children taking on the financial burden of a family. . . it goes on. The people were stunning, they were brave, many of them had firm faith. I watched many smile. I was invited into homes with dirt floors filled with smiling faces. It was obvious who had hope and who did not.

The poverty in Shanghai is different from what I saw in Bogota. China has no middle class. There are the very rich and the very poor. On one block I may see a Ferrari and a fisherman gutting some sea creatures. Each street is different and obvious according to class, some even vary building to building. I thought I was prepared to see both rich and poor but some of the poverty has been entirely shocking and difficult to stomach.

I may have seen one or two people begging for money, Stephen and I were even approached one night outside Starbucks, a woman was in tears and needed some money. I’ve seen homeless, and suffering, and hurting. What I have seen in Shanghai does not compare to what I have seen previously. There is nothing to prepare you for the discomfort you face at seeing these people so frequently.

Begging is simply not uncommon. I have seen old men who are obviously disabled (one man only had one leg), their bones show, their clothes hang on them like rags. Everyone shuffles to avoid them. I was told enough foreigners would give them money. I Twice I have seen people on the Subway trains, they carry a sound system with a mic and sing depressing songs, one was preceded by a woman scooting on the ground, the other held the hand of a small child. I saw a man lying on the ground as if he was dead, another man was screaming out, no one looked up too much. I saw a man lying on the ground on his stomach, I passed him going to Nanjing Rd. I passed him coming back. 3 hours must have passed. He was dirty, his hair was mangled at best, I couldn’t see his face because he kept it towards the ground. He didn’t even seem human. . .

And my heart breaks as I say it. He didn’t even seem human. And how could he? Who treats him as a human? He was alone, lying on the street, and no one did anything. He’s not the only one. The others I mentioned, who sees them? I have fallen into the trap with the others. Like the Levite I cross on the other side. Everyone else is lowering their head, everyone else is saying someone else will give, everyone else is questioning their motives. Are they really as poor? Couldn’t they sell their mic and not beg professionally? I’ve said it myself.

One thing is for sure, a person who begs is poor of spirit. They have lost hope. How wretched would it be to not only be without food, shelter, clean water, but to have no communication with another living soul, because to those who are living, you are not even human.

It’s so uncomfortable to see that it is easier to lower your eyes, to say nothing to them–how could you fix it? What would you say? “I won’t talk to them” I tell myself, “what could I say?. . . My Chinese is so bad. . . . they wouldn’t understand.” I gave what I had to a man who trailed our group after we arrived in Suzhou. He was a lovely old man. I smiled at him, but said nothing. I think that is my biggest regret. I didn’t want to make a scene, I didn’t feel like I had the time to attempt to tell him something, or anything, even when there’s so much I could have communicated, even without words. He smiled back and told me thank you, and then I followed the rest of my group.

We took a bus to Hangzhou a little while later. I leaned back in my seat and began to study what was outside. There were fields dotted with shacks similar to what I had seen in Bogota. A few workers were out in the fields wearing their straw hats, harvesting brown stalks. Some fields were surrounded by concrete buildings that looked as if they could nearly fall in. Laundry hung outside the block windows. They looked like barracks but I think they were work units: or communes. Many times I had to search between trees or over the tops, straining my eyes to see the rural areas. They were hidden from our view, as if someone didn’t want us to see.

I began to think about that. To really pray about it. We ask all these pointless questions, how poor must someone be to be in poverty? How their wrong methods make them unworthy of help? What if they just buy drugs with what we give them? People don’t associate with this class, especially the beggars. Yet, Jesus himself was homeless. He knew what the religious scholars were talking about, but he associated himself, not only with them (whom may have been hypocrites), but the real dregs of society: the lepers, the prostitutes, the crippled. . .  the beggars. He encountered beggars, they were in all the public places. They were despised by the Jews “and the Jewish communities are forbidden to support them from the general charity fund (BB, 9a; Yoreh De`ah, 250, 3). But the spirit of the law is evinced again in that it is likewise forbidden to drive a beggar away without an alms (ha-Yadh ha- Chazaqah, in the place cited 7 7).” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/beg-beggar-begging.html).

Jesus gave more than alms. We open our eyes to look at poverty. Jesus looks at poverty but sees people. We often remove ourselves from the situation emotionally, physically, spiritual. Jesus is present. I’ve heard some talk of Jesus’ eyes. I know they must be beautiful beyond measure. You can see his love in them. When he looks at someone he doesn’t lower his head and peer out avoiding eye-contact, I bet he looks deep within with such love and raw emotion and passion for whoever he sees. He associated with those who make the rest of us uncomfortable for the most part. He reminded they, themselves, that they were worth being looked at, being smiled to, being helped, being human… and to be human is to be made in the image of God, and he has made us worthy because of the price he paid for us. He has made us priceless. The outcasts are included. No one is turned away. His arms are open. Ours should be too.

Tomorrow when I’m out on the streets of Shanghai once more I desire to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and seeing people as he sees them, treating them how he would treat them, and loving them.

 

Jesus Wears TOMS

toms.com

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to NOT own a pair of shoes? In my last post I wrote about how America is rich, and how owning a car makes you richer than 98% of people world-wide. I’ve seen some poverty in my own state in Kentucky, but it didn’t compare to some of the areas I saw in Bogota, Colombia last summer. Among the mountains were scattered, not run-down mobile homes and trailers, but shacks made out of scraps of metal, and bits of cardboard, it reminded me of the hoovervilles in the 1930s Great Depression. I returned for Colombia about the same time a friend of mine returned from a week in Haiti. We compared stories and pictures, and I was amazed, that many of the poorest people in Kentucky would have something to give to the poor in Colombia, and the Colombians, (who were beautiful people and often invited us into their small homes) would have had something to give to the Haitians.

At home in Kentucky, I sometimes see people who wear old, dirty, clothes, their hands are black with the hard labor they’ve been doing, and there’s integrity there, in Colombia I saw children who should have been wearing coats and sweaters, dressed in thin fabrics, obviously too small for them, but the pictures I saw from Haiti, there was hardly a child with a pair of shoes, and some of the children had no clothes at all. I’ve read about places in Haiti, like Shada, and villages in Africa, that are literally places more like garbage dumps than towns.

Can you imagine, what it would be like to live in that kind of poverty? Maybe you can, maybe you’ve been there, but that’s not a hardship I’ve ever experienced. Rising out of poverty is a very difficult thing to do, even in the United States. It’s hard to get a job when you have nothing, because first impressions really make a difference. I heard about an organization that was helping homeless men get jobs by giving them suits to wear and training them on what to say in interviews, job applications, and the like.

TOMS shoes does something similar with the “One-for-One” movement. For every pair of shoes you buy, they provide a pair for a child in need. It doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but often a child who doesn’t own shoes cannot go to school. Shoes can make the difference between breaking a cycle of poverty in a child’s life. They also protect the child against disease, infection, and parasites.

I’ve also thought that a new pair of shoes gave everyone’s step an extra boost of confidence, and I think in the case of these children, having a pair of shoes really does give them more confidence.

I think if Jesus had walked the earth today instead of 2 thousand years ago, he would have been wearing TOMS, and not sandals.

I wear my TOMS to school, to parties, and even for dance performances, and I think you should wear TOMS too. And the best part is, you’re wearing the same style of shoe as 1,000,000 children that TOMS has given shoes to.

Shoes for change. Shoes for tomorrow. TOMS

Watch a video about TOMS: http://www.toms.com/our-movement/movement-one-for-one

2%

I read yesterday that 2% of the world’s population own 50% of the world’s wealth. If you own a computer, you’re in that top 2% of the world’s richest people. That’s a little bit humbling, considering, that regardless of your current financial situation with today’s economy, if you own a car, or have a place to live, if you ate today, you’re one of the world’s richest. And as I started to consider this… how humbling… I’ve been born in a place in which, not everything was handed to me, but everything was available, I can aspire to whatever I want, I can dream. This may not sound like that big of a deal, but a child in deep poverty can’t dream.

When I was in Bogota, Colombia, I met a young boy who came to me and a friend of mine, David, who was translating. The little boy asked to be saved, then David began talking to him in Spanish, and after a while they prayed, and David turned to me in tears, because the little boy, no more than 5, had said that he wanted to know Jesus, so that he could be a man of God, and that God would provide for his family. There was hope for this little boy, who was already becoming a man because of circumstance. We were travelling and preaching in a rural mountaineous area, and I had met other boys 10-12 who already were the man of the family, struggling to help their mothers pay for food, living in shacks made of metal, nestled in the hills.

A child who is bound by poverty has no room to dream, they live day to day with worry and hunger. But we ask children all the time “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I would say this is one of America’s greatest treasure. Teaching children to dream. I remember as a child saying that I wanted to be a ballerina who traveled all around the world to perform, and then when I was there, I would tell the people about Jesus (I also wanted to be a missionary), I wanted to be the first person to land on Jupiter, and the first woman to become president (but even at 5 I was under the impression Hilary Clinton would beat me, so I decided she could be president instead of me). And those dreams weren’t just things I thought about, but things I aspired to. I took ballet classes, I read books, I played games, I asked questions. No one told me I couldn’t… It took me until I was 7 or 8 to realize one couldn’t even land on jupiter as it is a gaseous planet. I was a dreamer and people let me dream.

Now it’s possible for me to pursue any of those dreams. I can begin a political career, I can train a little longer and start auditioning for ballet companies, I can go to school to become an astronaut. I can be almost anything I want to be. And as I began to realize my blessings, for in truth, we are extremely blessed in many ways, I began to question “why me?” Out of the billions of lives I could have been chosen to live, why did I get the circumstances that I’ve gotten. I’ve asked this on many occasions when my blessings have been taken from me. But today I wonder why I am the one who drives a car, and lives in a good home, goes to school, and has a job. I’m an educated dreamer.

I think the real question isn’t “why?” because I can’t answer that, but what? What will you do with your wealth? Your knowledge? Your opportunity? Your blessings?

I’m not sure I believe in accidents, or coincidence, I may come closer to believing in fate, or in destiny. I believe things happen for a reason, to be sure. But in the event that you don’t, you have to wonder, why someone else lives in such extreme poverty, and you are so blessed. Perhaps, that very thought doesn’t move you to action as it does for me. But wouldn’t it be nice to think that each person has been blessed for a purpose? And how is it purposeful to gain ridiculous amounts of money and never have love? Being in the 2% richest, also means we have a great amount of power. Here, it may seem like we are struggling. Let’s face it, gas prices go up, everytime we blink. But compared to so much of the world… we have so much. And even when we have nothing, our streets are basically clean, there’s running water, buildings are standing, this isn’t a war zone, there’s still opportunity.

So I ask again, what? What are you willing to do with your dreams?

You have the opportunity to bless the world.

Check out Compassion International to see how you can make a huge difference in the life of a child in poverty.