Small Things With Great Love

[post from my wife, Amanda, reflecting upon her recent trip to India]

Christmas feels a little different for me this year. Before now, I don’t think I fully appreciated Jesus humbling Himself and becoming poor. Last Christmas, I hadn’t really witnessed poverty. God graciously allowed me to see something that changed me forever.

I’m a stay-at-home mom of three little girls. My day usually goes something like this: wake up, get some one-on-one time with God in the Word, get the kids up, feed them and get them off to school, do some housework, start thinking about dinner, pick kids up from school, prepare dinner, get kids to bed, spend some time with my husband, and, lastly, put myself to bed. All simple things, making my world seem rather small.

Up until a few weeks ago, when my world got a whole lot bigger. I had the opportunity to go, almost literally, to the opposite side of the world. I traveled to East India with some pretty amazing people as part of a Compassion International trip. Much was done in the way of preparing: shots were received, checks were written, a 10 page “survival guide” drafted and printed out for my dear husband as he braved life with the Shenanigans (our girls 5, 3, and 2) and then we were boarding a plane for almost a day and half of travel to finally land in Kolkata.

So, it’s obviously very different from my small town in Alabama (or the Atlanta suburb I grew up in ☺). The smell of burning trash, the inability to see the actual sky because of the smog, the garbage everywhere, the horns constantly honking as cars, rickshaws, bicyclists, pedestrians, dogs, and cows all share the same un-laned streets. People selling all types of meat (usually surrounded by swarms of flies), fruits, and wares all over the place. People making their homes out of a lean-to positioned on the sidewalk.

But, honestly, I expected these things. I knew India, and especially Kolkata, was one of the most impoverished places in the world. So, I had an idea of what comes with that. But, I found something unexpected during much of my trip. And it became clear to me what that “something” was during one of the home visits.

During home visits, we traveled with Compassion representatives to the homes of participants in the project – either a mom that was part of the Child Survival Program or a student that was part of the Child Development Sponsorship Program. The first day, walking over a stagnant stream and a mountain of trash, we visited the home of Tumpa. She has a toddler and is a participant in the CSP. We were all sitting there, along with many of her curious neighbors, in her tiny home, trying to make conversation. Tumpa had come to trust in Christ through her participation in the Compassion project and He was so evident in the Hope in her eyes and the smile on her face.

So, I asked a simple question, “Tumpa, can you describe for us your typical day?” Sam, our East India Compassion office rep. translated the question into Bengali and then relayed the answer back to us in English, “she wakes up, reads her bible, feeds her baby and other family members, sees her husband off to work, does some housework, and then starts thinking about what she’s going to cook for dinner.” And that’s when God showed me the sameness that became the common thread for me throughout this trip. Tumpa’s daily routine was strikingly similar to mine. God has the same love for her as He does for me. The difference is in the things we have no control over – the part of the world and the circumstances we were born in.

Before I went to India I knew that Christ commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. I knew that He commanded us to take care of the poor. But, God used a stay-at-home mom in Kolkata to show this stay-at-home mom from Birmingham what it means to love my neighbor and take care of the poor. God made it very easy for me to see my neighbor as myself. And it’s pretty impossible to ignore yourself.

I’ll admit, the needs seem so vast and overwhelming. The temptation to be paralyzed by that thought is very real. But, I’m reminded of a quote that I read while visiting the home of Mother Teresa, just a short walk from the place we stayed in Kolkata… “We can do no great things,
only small things with great love.”

And this is where I find an avenue to do a small thing – to love my neighbor and take care of the poor – Compassion. I went into this trip with great respect for Compassion, but that respect was strengthened even more when I saw the integrity of their ministry and the selflessness of the staff for the purpose of releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. We were able to see the holistic approach taken by Compassion in action during our time in East India. Something that was very profound to me was that several of the staff members at the projects had grown up as participants in the Compassion project and were now serving as teachers. They’re the real deal. Read more here www.compassion.com. And ask me about it. I would love to share more of what God taught me in India.

We also learned that India is a rather under-served area – there were around 300 applicants for the Leadership Development Program last year, but only funding for 80. There are lots of children who need sponsors – sponsors to not only help provide resources, but to love them and maintain a relationship with them. I did not realize until this trip just how much those kids love their sponsors. They all asked us to pray for their sponsors. They all wanted their sponsors to come visit them. And they cherished their letters from their sponsors.

So, this Christmas is different. I got a tiny glimpse into someone else’s world. And I’m praying that God would be glorified in the small things that I can do because of His great love.

An Impossible Challenge: $1 for 1 Day

Today is World Poverty Day. Surely you’ve heard by now statistics like “Over 1.25 BILLION people in the world live on less than $1 a day.” Yes… that’s Billion, with a “B.”

I wanted to challenge myself and friends to get through the day on only $1 per day… to try and identify with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world suffering extreme poverty… But it’s impossible. It is simply impossible to even force yourself into that kind of poverty as an experiment in empathy…

Here’s what I mean: Have you ever let yourself identify with that harsh reality? Not just in a “poor them” kind of sympathy, but really try to imagine that bare bones existence?

  • To be honest, if you happen to see this via twitter, tumblr, or facebook, then you’ve probably already exceeded your daily allowance – what we spend on the cheapest data plan for cell phones or internet service at home is close to, if not more than, $1 per day…
  • Imagine all of your utilities are free – electricity, water, sewer (forget about TV, netflix, DVR, etc)…
  • Imagine the cost to get to work or school is free – car payment, gas money, insurance, tag fees, transportation fees…
  • While we’re at it and since we’ve mentioned a place to live, work, and get an education, imagine all of those things are free too – mortgage or rent, tuition and fees, any qualifications or even basic wardrobe and hygiene needed to be employable (let alone successful)…
  • Imagine your health needs – insurance, medications, vitamins, even something as simple as clean water… not just branded and from a bottle, but from the tap… that’s all free too…
  • And we haven’t even mentioned FOOD…not just $1 item on a “value meal” but food for the whole day every day.

We can’t even pick ONE of those things and try to manage $1 a day in ONE category! And even if all of those things were “free,” (which is the best we can imagine, since we can’t escape these obligations to banks, service providers, and employers for the day… we can’t unlearn our education or undo the physical and mental development resulting from a lifetime of proper nutrition and basic healthcare.) we still can barely stretch our imaginations to picture only $1 a day left to live on for everything else…

So, again, It’s only 8am and as I drink my second cup of coffee, finish a quick blog post on my laptop after reflecting on my daily reading I downloaded from my church’s website and a tweet about #WorldPovertyDay from my smart phone… I realize I CAN’T imagine life on $1 a day… I can’t even fake it…

It’s simply impossible to fathom… it’s a tragic injustice… in light of all the buzz lately about “Occupy Wall Street” and everywhere else… people bent out of shape about the obscene gap between the 1% and the 99%… Let’s stop focusing on ourselves “deserving more” and remember that well over a Billion people live on less that $1 a day and that pretty much anyone in the U.S. already has more than 80-90% of the world’s population – an obscene gap exists between our daily reality, no matter how budget-conscious, and the struggle for survival of Billions of people on this planet who happened to be born at a different latitude and longitude than we did…

This isn’t about feeling guilty about what we have – it’s about doing something about the fact that so many people DON’T have. It’s not about “UNDOING” something temporarily in our lives – it’s about DOING something for the sake of eternity in other people’s lives.

I can’t even imagine…

But I know something has to be done.