Parents often send their youth to places like Guatemala, hoping their son or daughter will return home feeling fortunate for the ‘blessings’ they have in their own life. Parents’ motivation for funding a mission trip frequently isn’t religious at all; they just want their kids to come home realizing they shouldn’t complain about what model Xbox they have because at least they have shelter, food and water.
I don’t doubt that when my boys are teenagers and themselves being consumed by materialism I’ll have those same motivations in shipping them off to some desperate, developing nation.
At the same time, the motivation to ‘teach our kids how fortunate they are’ has always rubbed me the wrong way.
After all, aren’t we essentially using someone’s poor kid to teach our rich kid a lesson?
That’s not mission; it’s not service. That’s, really, just another form of consumerism.
We’re sending them off to a place of poverty because there’s nothing we can buy in the store that will teach them that particular lesson.
Here’s what else I think and I only realize this because I didn’t send my kids off on a mission trip I happen to be here in Guatemala with them:
When we want our kids to come away from mission feeling fortunate for what they have, we tip our hats to the fact that having is really what’s important to us.
Seeing this place through Gabriel’s and Alexander’s eyes has taught me an important lesson. The poor, indigenous Mayans with whom we’ll serve this week- they don’t know they’re ‘poor.’ They don’t think of themselves as poor.
And neither does Gabriel. Nor does Alexander
Seeing this place through their eyes has shows me how poverty is a category we impose on them because we’ve allowed materialism to call the shots in how we define ‘riches’ or ‘happiness.’
Gabriel and Alexander don’t notice that none of these kids have a Wii and they don’t feel badly that they don’t.
They don’t show compassion to them because it doesn’t occur to him that they should be pitied.
Instead Gabriel has been perfectly content to play in the dirt, broken bits of plastic making just as good an Ironman toy as a $10 one from Target. Their homes are just their homes, that their floor is mud and ours hardwood is of no consequence to him.
Parents often want their kids to return from a place like Guatemala realizing that they should be content with what they have. I’ve never heard a parent say they want their child to return realizing that a full, rich life can be had apart from having.
But it can be. That’s what my boys teach me here, and it’s taught me that until you’re hit with this realization you can never see ‘poor‘ people as…people.
And if you can’t see them as people your act of charity isn’t Christian precisely because it’s neither relational nor incarnational.
I’ve been coming to Guatemala for over a decade to do projects like these for people like this but, seeing them through Gabriel’s eyes, it’s like I’m seeing them for the first time.