“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” – James 1:22
In June, I embarked on a trip to Mexico, as I’ve done many times before. It wasn’t a “lay on the beach and get drunk” trip, it wasn’t a relaxing vacation: it was hard work. I went to a part of the world where the middle class lives in tarp covered boxes, where gangs kill you if you refuse to join, where medical care is not affordable so death due to sickness is a real problem, where meals are sparse and disease is rampant.
I went to what most Americans don’t understand is a harsh reality of life for half the world.
I went to love these people as I’ve done for many years, but this year I was given new eyes. This year I saw poverty on a level I had likely ignored or underestimated before and it broke my heart.
I fought God on going, if I’m being completely honest. I’d just settled into a new job, my husband wasn’t able to go with me, I could have happily stayed home or gone to the beach. When I arrived, I was angry and my attitude showed it. My anger at being there quickly turned into a feeling of resentment – how is it that we can sit by and let this happen? A community of bricklayers who live on fractions of pennies to the dollar of what we make is starving and rationing what little they have to feed their families. They are cold at night because the blankets are used as doors and the tarp draped across old garage doors only partially shields them from the weather. They shave their heads to get rid of lice because they can’t afford to buy the special medicated shampoo. There is no medical assistance or community aid, there are no food stamps or subsidized housing, no soup kitchens. No hope.
I went with an organization called Club Dust and their passion is people. Their focus verse is James 1:27 – “Religion that is pure and acceptable before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
What I like about this verse is that it doesn’t say “if you have the time” or “if you have the money” or “just pray for someone who is going if you want.” It says DO IT. Jesus tells us something similar: “And you WILL be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8b)
Not maybe, if we feel like it; we will. Whether we want to or not. Whether we can speak the language or swing a hammer or paint a wall. So I went. I did. And I failed miserably.
I dropped hammers and got paint all over myself and stood in the way as people carried wood rafters (I carried some, too… I wasn’t completely useless) while my feet hurt and I felt like vomiting. The kids seemed to connect with so many others, but not me. I felt so defeated.
How on earth can God use me in this situation, in this short trip, to change lives? It. Doesn’t. Matter. That’s what I learned. It doesn’t matter because it’s not about me.
I didn’t go to solve the problem in one week, or with one house or with my American money. I didn’t go to give myself a lesson in poverty so I could appreciate the things I have. Sure, that’s an inevitable effect on my life, but that’s not the point. The point is I didn’t want to go but I went because God calls it pure and acceptable to Him, and I want to serve others as an outpouring of my love for Him. It is His call in our lives (“our” meaning all Christians) to go be his hands and feet to the world.
In our severely limited worldview we fail to understand exactly how much of an impact going and doing can have. Here’s a list of things we accomplished in just four days: Six families now have a home with a roof and a door and safety. Donations of food, clothing and shoes were given to the community. Almost 100 kids attended vacation bible school at the local church and made crafts, had snacks, and learned about how much Jesus loves them. Hair cuts and free meals were given daily to the community. Families were loved on and we prayed with them, then connected them to the local church. We got addresses and raised money to send support for medical costs so children weren’t dying due to lack of medications. We literally became the hands and feet of Jesus as we served a community together, showing our love in a tangible physical way, and an emotional and spiritual way as well.
I don’t say this to toot my own horn, as I mentioned earlier I wasn’t even thrilled to go. If I didn’t go, it still would have gotten done. I’m not patting myself on the back, here. I’m simply showing what can be accomplished when we DO what the bible says, not just TALK about it.
When we got back, someone said to me, “I bet you feel good about what you did!” and it made my stomach turn. Do I feel good that someone who was previously unprotected and impoverished now has a home and a means of support? Yes, but I’m also sad we didn’t do more. I’m sad that there are people in our own town living like this. I’m sad that when we crossed the border back into the U.S., I watched as a homeless woman asked for money to feed her family and one by one I saw the crew that JUST built 6 houses turn her away (eventually a ten year old girl took her by the hand and led the woman to her mother, who gave her money).
Talking about God’s goodness to someone is pointless if we don’t show it, just as actions without love are useless. We may not change the entire world, but we can change the entire world for one person each and every time we become engaged. Get involved. Go. Do. Don’t just talk.
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