I know what it means to be without. Sorta. When I was a kid there were plenty of times that my brothers and I went without. We were never hungry and never went without clothes or basic necessities. But by American standards we were definately “without”. I can remember one house we lived in had ceilings that were falling in and the only heaters were a wall heater in the bathroom and a Dearborn in the living room. I burned my eyebrows many times lighting those when we got home from school on a cold afternoon.
My brothers and I wore a lot of hand-me-downs from my “rich” cousins. We also wore a lot of high water jeans with patches ironed on the knees. We usually only had three pairs of shoes: a new pair for school, last years for play and a pair of penny loafers for church. The loafers stayed at Dad’s house and only got worn every other Sunday. I think my kids go through three pair a week.
Many of our youth today think that “going without” means going to the dollar movies instead of the Rave. Or they will have to order off the dollar menu at Wendy’s in stead of getting the “value meal”. I know that there are young people around who genuinely know what it’s like to lack. I know some personally. But for the most part our kids, mine included, don’t have a clue.
I’m not sure who started taking the teens from my church to the Community Enrichment Center (food pantry) to volunteer, but I’m glad they did. It taught our youth that some folk can’t just walk in the kitchen and grab whatever whenever. We took our youth group to the Gulf Coast a few years ago so they could be the hands and feet of Jesus to people who are without. These folks lost pretty much everything in Hurricane Ike. God used our teens to help rebuild their homes and lives.
Last year I was able to lead our youth group to St Louis, MO where we lived in a church for a week and ministered to people with great need. Just steps from where we slept each night was a “soup kitchen” where we ate most of our meals with folk “not like” us. That week God showed us first hand what it means to be poor and homeless in America. I think I was most struck by the seeming hopelessness and despair. I was also greatly encouraged by the love and compasssion of God’s people who want to see lives changed.
A month ago my brother and I spent our 40th birthday in Kolkata, India. I only thought I knew what it meant to be without until Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012. That morning we walked with a group of volunteers through the the slums of Kolkata on our way to minister with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. What we saw defies verbal description. The emotions it invoked were all over the board. I was heartbroken and angry. I would be on the verge of tears one second then a dirty, tattered child would smile at me and I could see the ignorant hope and potential in his eyes.
Each year God takes me somewhere I’m not comfortable going. Shows me things I don’t want to see. Teaches me things I didn’t know I needed to learn.
I don’t have any deep, life changing message for you to take away from this blog. I’m still trying to figure out what it is God’s wanting from me or trying to teach me. I’m slow to learn sometimes. But, until I figure it all out I’ll keep going where He sends me with my ears, eyes and heart open.