The Worlds of Excess and Lack

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Take about a minute to study the illustration above. Move your eyes back and forth between the child with the iPad and the child eating off the ground. What do you feel?

This hit me like a punch in the stomach.

Shocking.

True.

How can I do more?

It says what I haven’t been able to find the words to say for a while now. Here in Central America I live in the tension that you feel when you look at this image. It’s an uncomfortable place, I admit.

I’m much more comfortable in my middle class home in Alabama, watching House Hunters on TV, surrounded by all my iThings and justifying the couple hundred dollars of recent purchases I just made on frivolous stuff for myself. I mean, I’m not rich and wasteful like those people, right?

We play the comparison game. The truth is that in the U.S. I feel borderline poor and almost convinced that I deserve more: more convenience and comfort, better service, newer gadgets, faster technology, the latest styles. But who is making me feel this lack in my life? Advertising companies? The family down the street? That friend from high school who flaunts her lavish lifestyle on Instagram? Maybe it’s time to cut those things out. I’ve recently started a discipline online of unfollowing people/media/companies that feed that insecurity in me, that insatiable hunger that tells me I need and deserve more more more. They. Are. Lies. (For parents, it might be those that convince you that you should take out a 2nd mortgage just to get your kid all those gifts for Christmas.)

As an adult (more specifically, an adult living as a foreigner in a developing country) I am fully #woke to the fact that in my family we were lavishly spoiled as children during Christmas. (which I loved as a kid, don’t get me wrong) But I think it fed that little materialism monster in me and now it’s my job to try to starve him.

It’s the reason I have a hard time answering when someone cheerfully asks, “Do you love living in Honduras?” Well, part of the time, yes, but not because I’m thoroughly enjoying myself or super comfy or even “living the adventure of a lifetime.” My lifestyle here is very different and a lot of days are hard. It helps keep me grounded and more aware of the majority world’s reality and I value that far more. In the states I can easily and comfortably forget the suffering of those outside my door – the ignorance is bliss kind of thing. Even when I go back home and spend an extended length of time I start to forget. We humans have such short attention spans.

Here, the suffering is unavoidable.

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Now that I have seen I am responsible. – Brooke Fraser


If you’re still wondering if you might be considered rich or not by global standards, Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 1.20.26 PMcheck out the Global Rich List and see how you compare. I can bet you’re at least in the top 3% richest in the world. ūüėČ

  • sidebar: It certainly isn’t a USA vs. majority world problem either. Economic inequality is sometimes the most extreme within the borders of one single country. The gap between rich and poor in Honduras is painfully obvious.

I just finished reading the book 7 by Jen Hatmaker¬†– I’m behind the times, I know.¬†The tagline is “an experimental mutiny against excess.” Yes. It encouraged me (Again. I will forever and ever need these reminders) that there is value in living more simply and that most of the things we think we need aren’t really necessities but, in fact, excess. The premise of the book is to free ourselves of the bondage of materialism while at the same time opening our eyes to the needs of others around the world. liberation + solidarity.40e6ebd24f7c0e79951a2463ca2290e6--truth-quotes-a-quotes

A good friend of mine used to say, “The most important things in life aren’t things.” Amen.

A few years ago I blogged about something similar after reading Jeff Shinabarger’s book¬†More or Less.

I wrote, “the real kicker is that the kind of life I live here (Honduras), which at first I considered sacrificial, is still seen by many around me as living in abundance. That blows my mind.” The car I felt embarrassed to drive during college now looks like a huge blessing when I consider that most families here do well to buy one used shared vehicle. And mine was one of FIVE vehicles that my immediate family owned – practically unheard of here in Honduras.

I‚Äôm caught between these two worlds ‚Äď but I want so badly that they understand each other.” (Full blog post here.)

My great frustration in life is feeling misunderstood. (My Myers-Briggs [INFP] and Enneagram [4 w 5] personality type results confirm this) So, as if to complicate things even more I decided to move to and marry into a new country and culture and language. Communicating effectively and achieving “being understood” is even more challenging yet at the same time more rewarding when it happens.

And it’s not just on the Honduras end. Sometimes it’s hard for family and friends back home to relate to my daily life (no fault of their own) or to understand that the values, norms, and status quo in Honduran society are different. It gets tricky trying to balance two different value systems. Small talk becomes even more painful when you have so much heaviness weighing on you. Very few in the states truly understand the plight of an average individual trying to make ends meet in a developing country like Honduras and even fewer truly grasp the reality that:¬†The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income and the richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income.¬†The inequality is staggering and it’s an inequality that has actual faces and names here.

Did you know? The money spent on diet plans in the U.S. alone could feed all starving children around the globe? The 60 billion dollars spent on Black Friday in the U.S. could solve the food crisis TWICE and the water crisis 6 TIMES?

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The wonderful thing is that statistically, Americans are more likely than any other country to voluntarily give to help the poor in other countries. Ironically, those with lower incomes actually give a higher percentage. We could improve on the fact that there is still 33% in our country who do not donate to charity at all.

On my previous short-term trips I would come home to the U.S. to my big comfortable bed and just cry because I didn’t know what to do with what I had just experienced. I knew something was terribly wrong with how I saw the majority of Americans living – their skewed priorities, their indifference to “outsiders.” Unfortunately after a few weeks, those strong feelings of unrest and conviction would start to wane. The awareness that 62% of the population of Honduras live below the poverty line would fade to the background of my consciousness because it was no longer right in front of my face. I would continue with my life and get caught up in the same trivial first world problems. I now consciously choose to keep it in the forefront of my mind no matter how uncomfortable it makes me.

I also choose to keep speaking up about it. I’ll be like that annoying dripping in the kitchen sink that just won’t. shut. up.

You’re welcome.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.” Matt. 6:19

What are some practical ways you liberate yourself and your family from the bondage of materialism and/or stand in solidarity with those suffering in and outside our borders?

*Two other life changing books on my shelf regarding this topic are Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider and The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns.*

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Nueva Alianza village update [PHOTOS] and Mission teams recap

It’s been a busy summer in Honduras! And that is just the couple of groups with which I was able to be present. Praise God for all the volunteer work that goes on in all parts of the country due to foreign teams. The San Pedro Sula (and I would imagine Tegucigalpa as well) airport is always buzzing with English speaking groups coming and going during the summer months.

I was able to spend 6 weeks total in the country. Needless to say, my summer flew by! (And I like it that way. ūüėČ Now fall can hurry up an get here please.)

But I wanted to follow up on the project in the currently sponsored village in Copan and share a bit from our 2 weeks of medical clinics.

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Nat√°n and Walter in Nueva Alianza

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Laundry mat! Where some of the families wash their clothes. Most don’t have the typical pila. (large concrete wash basin)

I posted a picture and caption on Facebook from our preliminary trip up to the village about a little girl named Mariela:

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|| The best view. || ¬†My new friend, Mariela, showed me her house and her family’s garden yesterday. They were proud of their new water filter they received about a week ago. Two families live together in the tiny home so she calls the little room that she shares with other family members her “house.” Their outhouse style toilet has stopped working so they have to use the bathroom in the woods. They wash clothes in the nearby creek.

From the post a sweet friend messaged me wanting to send money for this family to have a new bathroom! So on the following trip we were able to sit down with the pastor of the village and write out the materials needed to construct a new outhouse for this family with a toilet that could be “flushed” with (a bucket of) water instead of what they had before – a hole in the ground that would fill¬†up. Then we went to the hardware store…

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…and just a few weeks later we went back for a visit and got to see the completed and functioning outhouse!

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The donation we received was enough for two entire outhouses so on¬†this follow-up trip we bought another load of materials to construct a second outhouse for another family who mentioned this need and whom the pastor knows personally. Also, we DO NOT build or hire anyone to build these for them. Part of maintaining dignity and pride in work and your possessions is taking ownership of them from the beginning. We do not endorse handouts but¬†we work with them and listen to what the needs are. We do the basic things that they are not able to do on their own and come alongside them as they work to make it happen. Our goal is to develop communities and individuals, not be their vending machine, which is why the church’s consistent presence with them in their village is so important. I wish I was there to be able to visit monthly or even more often.

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me, Nat√°n, Pastor Joaquin, Jonathan, Yanela – overlooking Nueva Alianza in the background

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* JOY *

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Mission Teams!

So, this year was pretty exciting as far as teams go. We had a lot of people and each year a lot of my family go, which I love, but this year it was even more exciting because my little (giant) sister came for the first time! And I was about her age the first time I traveled to Honduras and fell in love with the country.

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Family! me, little bro Carson, little sis Tori

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Lovely cousin Kate! What would I do without her?

Our first week of medical clinics was in the area of La Esperanza, Intibuc√°. Such wonderful weather and beautiful people! Our second week was in Cop√°n as usual, which will forever have my heart. ‚̧ I actually didn’t take any pictures these two weeks because my main role was interpreter and I can get easily burned out wearing too many hats. Let’s face it, missions is not always smiles and giggles¬†and I can get cranky by the end of these trips!¬†But to be honest, even though it is a lot of work, this time was refreshing and reenergizing for me. Exhausting and sometimes emotionally taxing, but the Lord taught me new things and I treasure the moments shared with family and friends, new and old, on the 2015 Honduras medical mission trips.

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White House Halts Deportations // Evangelical Immigration Table

What a monumental week/last 24 hours. It was, right? At least in the world of immigration news. Whew.

I heard of the White House’s announcement this morning to halt the deportations of young immigrants, particularly those eligible for DREAM Act status. My first reaction? Elation. I thought of friends of mine who have been praying for the day when our President would announce such a thing. This could potentially affect 800,000 innocent people.

Then I got skeptical. And I remembered that we don’t put our trust in man… especially not politicians. I think that I will really celebrate when I see this new policy carried out in a practical way. (because we all know that empty promises are a White House specialty)

A friend emailed me this great article¬†today from BBC News and the second video in the article features a Birmingham, Alabama DREAMer, Victor, being interviewed in a Peruvian restaurant where I have eaten before. (reppin’ that BAMA in global news, no big deal.) I participated in a rally for immigrant rights with him and a group from Birmingham at Alabama’s statehouse on Valentine’s Day of this year.

Victor and several other undocumented recent graduates sharing their stories in Montgomery, AL.

You can view more photos from the Valentine’s Day rally on my Flickr! stream.

Earlier this week, a wonderful group of evangelical Christian leaders, known as the Evangelical Immigration Table, collaborated at a press conference to call for comprehensive immigration reform. I watched the live stream from work and have to admit, my little immigrant-loving heart was bursting with happiness. This is progress I thought. (on their website you can watch the press conference, hear their new radio spot and sign the pledge for just immigration laws)

Statement from website:

As evangelical Christian leaders, we call for a bipartisan solution on immigration that:

  • Respects¬†the God-given dignity of every person
  • Protects¬†the unity of the immediate family
  • Respects¬†the rule of law
  • Guarantees¬†secure national borders
  • Ensures¬†fairness to taxpayers
  • Establishes¬†a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents

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I was also feeling a little nerdy and starstruck having had the privilege of meeting several of those leaders in the last few months due to my short-term work in immigrant rights community organizing. I respect these guys and truly see them as world changers.

I am certainly grateful that immigration reform has been brought to the forefront this week and that the conversation is slowly beginning to be framed in an appropriate manner. Time will tell how this actually affects lives and how effectively it propels us toward national comprehensive reform.

Valentine’s Day Rally. Montgomery, Alabama.

God knows the heart of the immigrant, even when we don’t.

This past week I attended a Mother’s Day service at a local Hispanic church (I was invited by some of my neighbors) and a few days later, an elementary school graduation of a Mexican boy who is in our mentoring ministry. It is not unusual for my friends, roommates, fellow mentors and I to find ourselves at events like these… I really enjoy being involved in the lives of the neighborhood kids and their families.

At church on Sunday, the pastor preached to the immigrant congregation about not neglecting the families they left back in their home countries. We had a moving time of prayer for family members “back home” who may feel abandoned or betrayed by their loved ones’ choice of moving to the U.S. He spoke of how the Lord knows the heart of the immigrant and knows the tears, pain and the agonizing process of deciding whether or not to leave one’s home country and all things familiar for an indefinite amount of time. He reminded us of the Bible characters (including Jesus) who moved to distant lands either for reasons of famine, searching for work, fleeing oppression or by a command from God Himself.

There I sat on Mother’s Day – amongst families from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, etc who had left their home and other family members behind in search of opportunity – knowing that I had the luxury of driving only a couple hours into the next state to see my mother and they didn’t share that luxury with me. I could sense the ache and maybe even a little remorse in the sniffles that filled the sanctuary as we pleaded with God to protect those still remaining in poverty, war-torn countries and without access to education.

Don’t fear, God knows your heart.

A couple days later I attended a 5th grade graduation. The boy I was there to see is from Mexico. His legal status is pending. He was brought to this country as a baby by well-meaning parents only wanting the best for their son. I watched him receive award after award for scholastic achievement and heard teachers, principals and board members charge the group of students to “make wise decisions” and remind them and their parents that there should be no excuse not to complete high school and continue on to college. Before he and a handful of his classmates went up to receive the Presidential Academic Excellence Award, a letter from President Barack Obama was read. The President congratulated the students on their hard work and encouraged them to continue pursuing outstanding performance in their education. Everyone seemed to be on board with this sentiment. But how many parents and educators in that room really realized the opportunity disparity that will become evident among this class of 2019 in the next few years? While citizen children will be able to easily earn a driver’s license, their¬†classmates lacking documentation will have no chance at receiving a legal state-issued ID. While citizen high school graduates will be receiving scholarships and paying in-state tuition, some of their peers will have little chance at higher education, much less financial aid, and will have to pay out-of-state tuition for colleges that are right down the road from their high school.

To many latino immigrant families, moving from 5th grade to middle school is huge. This step is something that many parents that I personally know were not able to take while back in their home countries due to economic hardship. Seeing their children continue with their education is an emotional moment in which they realize that every sacrifice they had to make was worth it.

I had a recent conversation with my neighbors who are from Mexico and Guatemala about the political climate in my home state, Alabama, and updates on the anti-immigrant legislation that was passed last year. They told me about a Mexican man living in Alabama who came home one winter evening after work to find his water and electricity cut off. (as suggested by the new law – “no one is to enter a contract with an undocumented immigrant” including landlords and utilities companies) He, his wife and small daughters went to bed that night without showers or heat. When he called to inquire about it he was told he had two days before he would be evicted. Two days later they headed to Tennessee where they now live.

My neighbors have voiced their concerns with me before about waking up each morning not knowing if that day could be the day they get detained or deported. These people have lived here for years. They have established families. This is the only culture and country their children know. I asked if they had some kind of plan in place for their children in the instance that they were arrested. (I heard of many families in Alabama having to do this with other family members or neighbors after HB56 was passed) They told me not really but that they make sure that all their children (who are natural born citizens) have their passports as soon as possible. If anything were to happen to one parent, the whole family would follow back to the home country – being separated is not even an option.

I consider these families very dear to me. So when I hear ignorant anti-immigrant political rhetoric… it hits me in a personal way. Whether this affects you or anyone close to you, I challenge you to have the courage to think critically beyond the stereotypes and xenophobia. Put a human face to the issue. And if you are a follower of Christ I sure hope you are able to see that God knows the heart of the immigrant, even when we don’t.

Road trips, politics, recent ponderings and anything else I can cram into one blog entry

Road trip

This past weekend some girl friends & I took a road trip up through Richmond to Virginia Beach while also spending a little time in Norfolk. I met new friends along the way and had the wonderful opportunity of visiting some old family friends who had relocated to the area a few years ago. We four girls spent our twenty (plus) hour round trip drive singing, laughing, eating, dancing, switching drivers, reading books aloud, reflecting on life and relationships and just enjoying time on the road. It was a great getaway.

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Politics

  1. I have decided that I will not be guilted into or made to feel obligated to vote for a candidate in this year’s election if it does not sit well with my conscience. I am thankful for the right to vote, the right to voice my opinion and the right to let my local and national government know if I do not agree with something. I absolutely take advantage of that right but I also have the right to abstain from that right. If my personal convictions do not align with a particular person, I will refrain from voting period. A common reaction to that is “well, you’ll never find a perfect human being anywhere.” (implying that our options will always be limited to less than ideal candidates & we just have to grin & bear it) But “the lesser of two evils is still evil” and I will only give my vote to someone who I think really deserves it. I agree with Derek Webb when he sings “we’ll never have a Savior on capitol hill.” So, just as much as I don’t count on a perfect president, I also don’t feel as though I am grieving the Holy Spirit by not casting my vote this election year. Personal conviction. For those looking for a simple and helpful way to see which candidates hold similar views to you, a friend recently posted this awesome interactive website.
  2. There have been some awesome people that I have had the privilege of working with over the last few months taking action for the rights of immigrants in Alabama, particularly by pushing for the repeal of the recent anti-immigrant law, HB56. So much has happened, it will be a challenge to recount everything. I have participated in several rallies and marches at the capitol. (Montgomery) You can view my photos of those events on my Flickr page.
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    Me at the Valentine’s day “One Heart, One Alabama” rally in Montgomery.

    As an evangelical community organizer, my goal was to mobilize evangelical churches to engage in dialogue about what it means as a follower of Christ to welcome the stranger. We hosted an event at Samford University in Birmingham called the G92 South Immigration Conference. This day-long event facilitated thoughtful, compassionate and Biblical conversation among pastors and church leaders and college students from the area. What an exhausting day it was for us organizers! I can honestly say that until G92, I had not participated in the planning of such a large-scale and important event. It pushed and challenged me and I know I gained invaluable experience. I co-lead a student session with Lisa Sharon Harper from Sojourners called “Engaging Effectively.” This session was planned for the end of the day as a call to action for those students who had just received all the info and wanted to put it into practice. As prompted by Lisa, our first step of action was to confess and repent of the ways we have believed the core lies that perpetuate such laws that oppress vulnerable people. A Samford student wrote a beautiful reflection of this time in the day. (this was probably my most favorite time as well) Lisa shared some thoughts on this as well in her blog.

Read some of the great articles and reviews of the conference:

(Other great resources are a study showing that HB56 is costing the state over $2 billion and a wonderful film portraying real-life struggles of immigrant families, A Better Life, whose director is also working on a project called Is This Alabama?)

Recent Ponderings

Well, for one… I am on the job hunt. And I am considering several options. In and out of the country. ūüôā But I won’t prematurely spill anything on those plans… just yet. We will just have to see how everything comes together. All I can say is that I am working on translating my resume to Spanish.

Thankfully I have had pretty consistent freelance video editing projects in the meantime. And I can’t lie, I pretty well enjoy making my own schedule and traveling for work and never knowing where I might be a week down the road. Who needs routine? Job security is for suckers.

AND, lastly, the group with whom I travel to Honduras for missions and I are preparing for our next medical trip coming up in July. We are currently fundraising and ironing out the details. I’m already pumped to be back. ūüôā