This week I’m in Guatemala with a service team from my church. We’re beginning work on a multi-year sanitation system for a Maya community, Chuicutama, in the Highlands. Our reflections for the week center on the theme of Jubilee, the biblical commandment mandates forgiveness of debts and economic restoration as part of God’s New Creation.
Jubilee is what Jesus announces as his Gospel in his first sermon in Nazareth in Lk 4. According to Torah, a big part of the good news of the Jubilee is reconciliation of wrongs in the world- a theme Paul picks up in 2 Corinthians.
To complement this theme, I’ve asked Laina Schneider, a friend and college student at Virginia Tech to post her thoughts on Jubilee. Laina studies agriculture at Tech and has served as Aldersgate’s mission intern in both Guatemala and Cambodia. Perhaps more importantly, as a college student her wrestling with questions of faith and life are just what the Church needs to hear. I’d encourage you to subscribe to Laina’s blog here.
Every time I stepped foot out of my hotel there were a group of motodops and tuk-tuk drivers yelling for my attention, all wanting my business. “TUK TUK LADY???” Often I just wanted to go on a walk, or the restaurant I was going to was only a few blocks away. They thought that any Western person wanted a ride everywhere, and they would charge high prices for even the shortest rides, thinking we didn’t know any better.
Although this demand for attention was annoying, it also made sense. In a city of nearly 3 million, where most of the vehicles on the road are mopeds, it is a very competitive business. Tourism is a blossoming industry, and many locals, from the city and surrounding provinces see this as the most realistic way to make money. It is not a cheap investment. Many drivers spend their entire life savings on a moto or tuk tuk, in the hopes of earning just a few dollars a day. There is often no profit involved; the money made from one ride will be immediately spent on street food, or go to their children’s school fees. After purchasing this expensive vehicle, especially if they have come in from the province, it is all they have. They live on their moto. Drivers will pull over on the side of the road and sit, very uncomfortably, to sleep on their moped. Tuk tuk drivers will sling up small hammocks from the bars of the cart to sleep in their off hours. It is hard for me to imagine literally having only one possession. What if it breaks? Or needs expensive repairs? Even if you can somehow afford the repairs, that’s at least a week of no income. These drivers’ lives are only their work; they’ve given up everything for the business.
The city is a jungle marked by patterns Darwinian survival.
They are literally enslaved to their poverty.
They have no choice but to keep working where they are, the risk of stopping to find another job is too great, and jobs are hard to come by, especially if you don’t speak English.
This is just one example of enslavement to poverty, people across Cambodia and the world, struggle everyday just to make ends meet, and often have no other choice.
We are so lucky, to live where we do and have so many blessings. We have been shown unbelievable grace, and now it is ours to share. Not only do we have time, money and skills to give, we can grant people grace just by showing them compassion and respect.
By building relationships in a process of empowerment we can simultaneously release them from their enslavement and define their lives with love.