After that first short-term mission trip to Dominican Republic in April 2011, my whole world changed. I think I’d always know it would happen as soon as I opened myself up to the issues a little more, and started to focus more on the ever-present desire to reach out and help.
I had gotten used to ignoring the desire, stuffing it down inside – I had no idea how to REALLY help people who were suffering on the other side of the world. The poverty they experience is so devastating compared to North American poverty. And it is so blatant compared to the hidden poverty that exists here. Help is NOT readily available in many developing countries, even when it is identified. There are corrupt governments, military oppressors, civil war, and tribal feuds to deal with as well. The soil is too dry to grow food and the water is not easily accessible. It all just seemed too much for little old me.
But that day, that Sunday in the village of Ascension, that was the game-changer for me.
That was the day I held the hand of poverty, I looked into the eyes of poverty, and I smiled at the face of poverty.
It was also the day I chose to grab on tight to Hope.
I have made this choice many times in my life. I have come to learn that in order to survive, one can never lose hope. Hope was my choice as a young woman who had lost her way, hope was my choice the moment I found out my second son had died in utero, and hope was my choice as we drove away from Ascension that Sunday in April 2011.
Hope led me through the death of my innocence to new life as a wife to my Joshua.
Hope led me through the death of my son to new life as a stronger, more loving and patient mother to Josiah and Elijah. This love for children has spread all over my world – to family and friends, church, public school, summer camp, and my neighbourhood.
And Hope is leading me through the death of ignorance and apathy to new life in serving those Jesus asked us to help.
No one needs pity, everyone needs Hope.
I remember looking over my shoulder as we were driving away from Ascension. I was in a car full of compassionate, intelligent people who were helping me find a place to start in sorting through the day behind me.
For most of the people in Ascension, their ancestors had come to the island as slaves. These were people who had been kidnapped from their African homes and sailed across the ocean to harvest sugar cane. Taken from their families, and treated so harshly I cannot even begin to imagine. Independence – gone, health – gone, future – gone. Taken. Everything taken. All in the name of money and power.
The old era of slavery is gone, outlawed two centuries ago. But poverty has brought a new era. The effects of the old era linger still. The cane still grows tall in the fields around Ascension, its roots still run deep and strong in the land. The cane still keeps people isolated from medical care, education, clean water, and employment. Oppression still exists.
It’s an oppression that can be lifted. There is definitely hope for those in Ascension and the countless other villages that exist in the developing world. You just have to look for it.
And that’s what I did as soon as the culture shock had settled for me. It wasn’t the shock of spending time in the Dominican culture that rocked my world in 2011, it was the shock of living in the North American culture. This is when I first realized that everything had changed for me, is still changing, will continue to change until I have no more days to live.
At first all I wanted to do was empty out my house, load it all up on a shipping container, and send it off to Dominican.
To: Ascension. From: A woman who has way too much!
Josh showed me a site called Global Rich List and we discovered we are in the top 6.6% of richest people in the world. US! Who would have thought? We are so wealthy, friends, and we don’t even know it.
It started to break my heart whenever we threw away food in our house. It became difficult to go to the grocery store and see aisle upon aisle of nutrition, some of which I knew was just going to go to waste. And what about all the items in the grocery story that weren’t even really “food”? Add to that the fact that mostly we choose to fill up our carts with THAT stuff instead of the nutritious stuff waiting on the shelves – it was overwhelming to say the least. All I could see was Plenty, and I didn’t like the look of it. Not after seeing such Want.
But I choose Hope. So I start to see how the Plenty is a gift. A gift to be grateful for, a gift to be shared, a gift to be enjoyed. I start to better understand the difference between needs and wants. I started on a journey of finding contentment. I focus on what I CAN do, instead of what I CAN’T do.
I want to share a new vision with anyone who will listen. A vision of a way of living that practices equality and sustainability. I want to encourage others to reach out however they can – whether it’s across the street or across the globe. I realize Want exists in North America as well, even if it tends to hide more here or look much different.
My youngest son was in his last year of preschool in 2011. A change in focus was coming quickly for me. It was time to figure out what I wanted to do with the emptier days ahead of me. I chose to use the gift of education and return to university to finish what I had started 20 years earlier. I had plans of becoming a teacher and helping to educate the next generation in what they would need to lead healthy, productive lives. And finding ways to educate them on the global issues they would inherit when they came of age.
I enjoyed university much more the second time around. I had 14 classes to complete to receive my degree, and I could take all of them online. This worked so well with the varying schedule of ministry and motherhood. I used the gift of employment and took on a part-time job for a year at the local christian bookstore to pay for most of the classes. I was able to graduate with a Minor in International Studies. Some of those classes included learning more about global issues, social issues, international development, sustainability, universal rights, peace and war, and slavery.
I learned more about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (written after the Second World War – at the time of the creation of the United Nations) and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (8 goals that were established following the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000. 189 nations made a promise to alleviate extreme poverty and deprivation around the world. The deadline is this year – 2015).
My head and my heart were opened in countless ways during the year and a half it took to finish my university degree. All the while I was processing, processing, processing – looking for Hope.
In January 2012 I attended my first World Vision Annual General Meeting with Joshua. He has been on the corporation for 9 years now, and spouses are always invited to the annual meeting. I had always stayed home with young boys before, but now I wanted in. And I loved it! I learned so much from that one day with World Vision, and met so many amazing people who were doing amazing things to help around the world. Oh yeah, I was seeing tons of Hope. I wanted to see more.
The desire to reach out and help only grew stronger with each university class I took, and each person I shared the Dominican mission trip stories with, and each new introduction to yet another sustainable development idea.
I started to teach my boys a little more about the issues. I try to show them that reaching out in LOVE is what will change the world, never reaching out in guilt. We have much so we can share much, and it can be such a joy to share with those who have not. There is still, always, Plenty to go around.
I began to recognize and celebrate the gifts, the freedom, the Plenty in my life. After feeling like there was never enough my whole life, after being brought up in the North American culture of “more is better”, I was realizing we needed very little to be happy in this world. I remembered the Dominican faces, the smiles, the twinkle in their eyes, even with so little they were happy. They continue to teach me so much about contentment.
We decided to use the gift of freedom and we lived out a couple of our bigger dreams – we took our children to Disney World in 2012, I graduated from university in summer 2013, and published my first book in December 2013.
We also began sponsoring a World Vision child in Miches, Dominican. Our church sponsored a bunch more children in Miches as well.
All the while I was seeing more and more Hope, and I was learning how to share that Hope with others who wanted to make a difference.
It was time to go back to Dominican, back to Ascension – and see what God had in store for us next. I’ll share more about that with you next week…