Friday evening was the annual Hope Dinner at the Hilton put on by our friend Lowell. Lowell does an awesome Robin Hood-style job of getting a bunch a rich folk together in a fancy hotel for a big feed, so that hopefully they will dig into their heaps of cash to help Hope build some wells and schools in Cambodia, Ethiopia, and a whole host of other places. The thought that struck me as I was sitting there is just how odd it is, the collision between the two worlds; up on the screen kids who can't find food so they eat leaves, and there in the Hilton banquet hall, us rich westerners who need to get dressed to the nines and wined and dined in order to be convinced that we should share a little.
Lowell and the folks at Hope are motivated by the heart of Christ. When listening to them talk, I think I can pick up a sense of their bottom line: it is that 1. we have been given much, 2. there is great need, so 3. we can't wait around any longer, we have to do something. "To whom much is given, much is required", and these folks are doing what they can, in creative ways.
So afterward, when Diana and I were driving home, our discussion turned to the fact that there are so many people in Japan (and of course at home too) who, despite having huge amounts of money, do nothing of any real value with it. And here's the catch: these people aren't the least bit evil; well, at least not any more so than us. In fact, they are pretty nice, and kind. We were talking in particular about a student of Diana's who has money for fancy cars and Louis Vuitton bags and designer clothing, and really is not at all stingy with her money, but there is a kind of stopthink that kicks in when it comes to helping people in another place. It is just not considered an option. So why? We were thinking that it is not so much a question of good/evil as it is of perspective and awareness. This student is the kind of person that would never allow a friend to starve or go without, and would very likely gladly help, but when it comes to the global situation, the problem is just too big, and too "out there" to seriously considering involving your life and money in it.
So of course, in thinking about solutions, our thoughts came back to the idea of community, and all the dreams of globally inter-connected communities of faith that we have been having for a while now, and why we have to continue plodding (ever so slowly) toward that dream. Because there would seem to be incredible value and potential for change when there is an exchange of people between communities, with friendships formed, and lives intertwined together. I guess I should explain more clearly what we mean. We lived for a while in a rough part of Winnipeg and made some good friendships with some people in that area who were in rough circumstances. Now we are living in Japan, trying to find and build some more friendships. There's a good chance, if all goes well, that Joey will take off to India in a few years and start building that orphanage. And we have some good friends in Eastern Europe who dream the same dreams (some of whom may be moving to Japan for a while). Now, it is not happening much yet, but I get excited about the redemptive potential of joining those communities together, with human traffic going back and forth. Because friendship closes the distance. It is one thing to feel blah about giving to the kid on the tv screen with flies on her face, but it is a whole other thing when that kid is your friend's niece, or something of that sort. We live in a time where our global mobility is at a high point, and it is exactly that kind of mobility that could narrow the huge gaps that we find ourselves just getting used to.
I am thinking particularly that it is vital that this kind of exchange be a two-directional - or multi-directional - thing. For example, and just indulge me some dreaming here, people from the Winnipeg community come live in the Japan community. Some of the kids from the orphanage here go back to Winnipeg to study, or maybe off to India to work with the people there. Some of the kids or friends made in India come to Japan or Winnipeg or Eastern Europe, etc etc. And with those communities interwoven by the friendships that would result, the feeling that those are "foreign places", places far off that I don't have to think about, would lose its destructive power. Wasn't this at least part of what Paul was up to in his missionaries journeys? He would go from one community to another saying, "hey, your family over there in Jerusalem is poor and starving so let's get together and share so that this equality that God so desires can come about." Well, maybe not in exactly those words.
I think we are looking for an end to the missionary mindset that says we "together" westerners will head off to some poor place to help and heal them. That ignores our own areas of poverty. It is like when Dave used to talk about the difference between giving and sharing ("giving" being the one we want to start with, and "sharing" the place we want to get to). He would say that giving tends to throw money over the fence. Sharing tears down the fence. The point that the missionary mindset forgets quickly is that we need fixing too. It's no different in a missions context than it is with the poor. We don't seek out the poor only because we have something to give, that is truly only half the reason. We also go because we have something to get, something to learn, something important that God has placed in the realm of poverty that we can find only there.