Monday, April 28, 2008

A Serious Dilemma. Counsel Please.

Sometimes if you write out your struggle and confusion, you meander to clarity and resolution. But clarity and resolution are even more likely if you share your struggle with wise counselors (that’s you!) and thoughtfully receive their counsel with humility. I think I’ll hedge my bet and try both:

I have already written of my excitement and joy here in Rwanda. I am indeed living a dream: I came here to touch lives and to be touched, …to transform and to be transformed. I hope (and believe) that the former is occurring. I am quite certain of the latter. But the dream has a frequently reoccurring scene that greatly distresses and paralyzes me. My distress is greatly magnified by my failure to know how to respond, …what to do, …what is right. This post mustn’t turn into a book, so I am compelled to break into essential bullet points and sound bytes:

1. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, and is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its per capita income is $220 per year, far less than $1 per day. 80% of the people survive on subsistence farming. Wood is the only energy source of 98% of the population. Average life expectancy is in the 40s, making me an “umusaza,” an old man to be respected. In short, poverty is severe and the needs are overwhelming.

2. As great as the needs are, Rwanda is no longer struggling in the aftermath of a recent disaster (e.g., a tsunami, hurricane, earthquake, severe drought, or in Rwanda’s case, the Genocide). Therefore, what Rwanda needs is assistance in development, not relief, …”a hand up, not just another handout.” (The distinction between relief vs. development is an enormously important one which we should all carefully consider. Presently, I shall only state that relief done wrongly – wrong place, wrong time, too long – does much more harm than good. It destroys cultures, creates dependency, and provides no long term, sustainable benefit.)

3. I am not ashamed to acknowledge that I came here to be touched,… that I might be compelled to reconsider the materialism in which I have been steeped,… that I might be transformed. But I also came to touch and transform the lives of others, believing that I was (that we all are) created for such a purpose. In all this “touching,” I desire to somehow transcend my own ethnicity and somehow truly connect with others who are so different from me and discover what makes us so much the same. I am not certain how to best accomplish that “connection,” but I do know that an essential element is to demonstrate that I sincerely care for them.

4. Although I have never done it, I am sure that my flesh would be thrilled by the pleas and squeals of joyful children if I were to walk into a village with a big bag of hard candy purchased at Costco. I can almost hear the shouts of “Hosanna!” And yet I can also hear the plea of President Kagame who has urged: “Please, do not make beggars of our children.”

5. I can also hear the wise counsel of a great woman of God (Robyn Robertson) who has been doing cross-cultural missions work for years, and who counsels me: “Generously give your time, attention, encouragement, and love. NEVER give money or things, as that will only poison the dynamics of the would-be relationship.”

6. But (and forgive me): “What would Jesus do?” What am I to do with:
Matt 25:31-46?
Matt 15:32?
Matt 6:3-4?
Mark 10:17-23?
Luke 16:19-31?
Heb. 13:1-3?
Proverbs 14:31; 19:7; and 21:13?
My only hope for some sort of a counter balance is to make something out of Matthew 26:11.

I hope that you will take a break from my droning and read the above passages, which are essential to fully appreciating my dilemma.

7. Now for the photo below: A few days ago, I was in a very remote village, with a large group of villagers, including the children and elders in the top photos and the most respected “alpha male” of the village (who was “watching out” for me), when I came upon this mother and child. By my very best pantomime hand signals, I asked if I could take her photograph. (I always ask.) For reasons I did not understand, she motioned me to follow her a few yards up a side path and around a mud wall that shielded us from the others. I took this photo and said, “Murakoze” (thank you), and she then immediately pleaded in her much better pantomime for money. It was pitiful, in the true sense of the word. But I have been determined to give generously of my time and talent for development, and to give generously of my love and attention, without reinforcing a culture of begging and degrading dependency. I felt sickened as I walked away from this mother and child, so confused and uncertain of what God would have me do in this situation which I experience 20+ every day.

So my dear friends and wise counselors, please give me your best counsel, preferably by posting a “Comment” to this blog post. I am truly desperate for clarity and wisdom…God’s Truth…in this matter.