I walk down the dirt lane, my flip flops heavy with mud from yesterday’s downpour. The two houses sit side by side. One is so big, brightly painted, accented by ornamental trim and tropical landscaping. The other a pieced together shack of left-over plywood and tin, accented only by the smell of rotting trash. One sits back from the road, carefully protected by wrought iron fencing and shady palms while the other barely has room in front to park the rusty bicycle that sits there and nothing at all to protect it from curious eyes like mine. I wonder about the families that live on this street. Do they know one another? Do they wonder about each other’s lives? Do they say hello when they pass? Mostly I wonder about the one living in plenty. Does she look out her windows and easily ignore the abject poverty being lived out right next door. Does she turn her head when she drives out her gate? Does she even notice? Did she ever notice? What if it was me? Would I see? Would I care? Would I find out my neighbors name and offer to watch her babies and drive her to the doctor and cry with her and pray with her and love her? Would I really?
We are one week in to our two month stay in the Philippines. It’s different here. I’m being stretched in a hundred ways. I wonder why? Why am I choosing this? What good is this doing? What are my children learning as the five of us try to make a home in one tiny room, grit our teeth through ice cold showers, hike to the laundry, and try not to think about what’s on our plates each meal? Will there be redeeming value? Will it somehow cut through our selfishness and pride and teach us true gratefulness? Will we be changed at the end? Will we be more like Jesus? Or will we simply flee back to our comforts and settle in?We went to a “slum” the other day. I feel uncomfortable even using that word but that’s what they call it. It was just like you might imagine except worse. Some of those around said it was a “nice slum” and the way to tell was that their their clothes were not completely tattered. My role was to speak to the women while their kids were being entertained by other members of our team. They gathered around, maybe 20 women or so, most of them young, some nursing babies, some with pregnant bellies. They stared at me expectantly. I looked back at their dark eyes. What could I say? What in my life even vaguely resembles their daily reality? I spoke, praying and listening for every word that should come next. After I shared, the women came for prayer one by one. I thought my heart would break. Oh how they need Jesus. In every way they need Jesus, just like I do. But how can I share my heart, pray for theirs, then get in the van and just drive away? I know God hears my prayers, but it’s hard to see how He can answer. The need is so great. Their opportunities are so few. They need long-term workers, long-term solutions, long-term discipling and mentoring, not a one time Bible study and a passionate prayer from some foreign girl that they can’t really understand. And I’m back to the question, does it matter that I’m here?
So I walk down the road. I see the two houses, and I think about my normal life, the one where I’m in my big house, living my comfy life. It’s not so obvious where I live, this contrast between the haves and the have-nots. The poverty and wounds and hunger and filth are carefully hidden, sometimes pushed away to the “other side of the tracks” so we don’t have to look at it, sometimes barricaded behind facades of manicured lawns and manicured nails. But I know it’s still there. Do I do anything? Do I care? What if I’m just like the woman living in this beautiful house in front of me? What if I’m the one turning my head, enjoying my life, drinking my coffee and having my morning devotions while all around me, women are shriveling up in poverty of spirit and dying from wounded hearts and unfulfilled dreams? A prayer wells up inside and this, maybe just this, is why I’m here. So that God can open my eyes. No matter where I’m at, no matter what nation I’m in, no matter how obvious or hidden the needs are around me, I want to see what He sees. No more turning my head, no more living behind the gates of comfort and security. No more thinking that showing His love is something I will do someday in some other place in some other circumstance. Lord, please open my eyes!