Monday, May 16, 2011

Things Fall Apart...and are put back together

I just finished spring semester at community college, and on May 31 I'll be starting my university class that I call "my baby" as in "my baby is being born on May 31." More on that later, but it's a class I'll not only be teaching for the first time, but I also wrote the curriculum for it.

A week or so ago, while I was putting the finishing touches on that class, I got an email from the university saying that they didn't have anyone to teach a class called "Literature, Life, & Ideas," and would I be interested and oh also, it starts May 19? I think you can pretty much guess what my answer was.

Now I'm furiously preparing for Literature, Life, and Ideas, and the first book I will be teaching this Thursday is Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. And of course during this time, the girls have myriad end-of-the-year activities that I have to prepare them for, then my dad both moved and wound up in intensive care. So in the midst of going back and forth to the hospital and baking treats for Lucy's class and making sure Elaine is dressed as a cat for the Pre-K 4 alphabet parade, I'm running around the world, screeching, "I have to know everything there is to know about Things Fall Apart!" And no, the poetic irony of that title does not escape me.

There is so much I could say about Things Fall Apart--which is a great book and you should read it. It's essentially the story of an African man within a tribe in Nigeria in the late 1800s whose world falls apart with the arrival of white missionaries. The two missionaries (aptly named Mr. Smith and Mr. Brown) pretty much embody all the ugly stereotypes of missionaries and imperialists.

A big part of my job at this particular university, since it's a Christian one, is to teach the students how to respond to...whatever--literature, media, etc.--as a follower of Jesus should. I have a great respect for Mr. Achebe's work and opinion, and I'm not even saying I disagree with it. A lot of ugly things have been done in the name of Christ and through mission work.

My undergraduate degree is actually in missions, so I hope I can bring some of that to the discussion on Thursday. I've had about a thousand thoughts swirling in my head over this book, recent events, and recent conversations I've had, and I hope to sort through a little of that here.

A few years ago, Darren and I read Randy Alcorn's The Treasure Principle together. It's a short, little book that contains 6 keys:
1) God owns everything. I am His money manager.
2) My heart always goes where I put God's money.
3) Heaven, not Earth, is my home.
4) I should live not for the dot but for the line. (Dot is here and now, line is eternity).
5) Giving is the only antidote to materialism.
6) God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.

I think that was a starting point for us to both live and think differently. As we have gone through various financial struggles personally and along with the rest of the U.S. (here in our city, gas was $4.25 a gallon last week. In the suburbs, it was $4.45) there is one underlying truth that I keep learning over and over: We are so rich.

My brother and his wife just returned from visiting her family in the Philippines. They stayed with her family, who own farms and a school, and also at a resort, but the poverty in that country is staggering. As my brother says, "You realize that when Jesus talked about 'the rich man' He really means us."

One organization we have both been involved with for many years is Compassion International. I love this organization for so many reasons, but one of the main ones is that it is not the white people swooping in and imposing their culture and ideas, but is rather an indigenous work.

Darren and I began supporting a little girl in Ecuador a few years after we got married. I think she was 5 when we began sponsoring, now she is 17. Her name is Lizbet. And a few weeks ago, we decided as a family, to sponsor a little girl in the Philippines. Her name is Gleramil. We loved looking through all the pictures and stories on the Compassion site.

We picked Gleramil because she is 8 years old, like Lucy will be in a few weeks, and also because we have a resident Filipina in our family who can give us all sorts of inside scoop. Oh and also because in Gleramil's picture she had ponytails, and Elaine said, "I like that little girl's ponytails."

Last week, we got our first letter from Gleramil's mom. A huge part of Compassion sponsorship is correspondence. As part of their blog community, they encourage us to write letters to our kids every second Friday. The kids can write as often as they want, but they are required to write to us 3-4 times per year, which the center where they attend helps them with.

In this letter we got to find out the names of Gleramil's parents and her siblings (we showed the letter to Chuck and Rome, and I said "Check it out; all the kids' names are combos of the parents' names." They laughed and said that is the Filipino way. Rome and her siblings are all combo names. She got lucky with a pretty name. Some of them...not so much.)

We got to find out Gleramil's favorite color, that she likes to play hide-and-seek, and that her favorite food is chicken joy (that is fried chicken from a popular fast food place called Jolly B--like how American kids like Chicken McNuggets. Rome said, "They serve it with rice," and Chuck said, "Yeah, surprise, surprise.")

Her mom wrote to us: "I am so happy and I am very thankful to you and to God that my child has a sponsor and I'm also thankful she was able to join Compassion. This is a great help to her studies and to us, her parents."

In the area where they live, most adults are unemployed. Those that are employed as day-laborers make an average of $55. A month.

We pray for these kids each day and keep their pictures on our refrigerator, but it's not just us, making a difference in their lives. They are making a huge difference in ours. We have some money we can share, but they give us love and friendship and perspective and prayer. Besides praying for them every day, I ask our adopted girls to pray for their sponsor mom and dad and sisters. We need it.

At our former church, we used to say the Apostles' Creed together every Sunday. I love all the words of that, but especially, "I believe in the holy, catholic church...the communion of saints." When we do missions in a human way, things fall apart. But when we let Jesus have His church, the universal church without walls or borders, it can be a little taste of what eternity will be like.

I will leave you with two things that have rocked my world this last week (also, I would say I spend waaaaay too much time on the Compassion site, but it is so worth it). The first is a blog post you can find here, one of my top 5 favorite blog posts ever. The second is a video you can find here. I just want to give you a glimpse of how things can be and hopefully lift your heart. Advisory (learned from experience): go grab a kleenex before you start reading and/or watching.

Oh, one last thing: Compassion puts together yearly trips where sponsors can visit various countries and meet their kids. I don't know if that dream will ever come true for us, but this year's trip is to the Philippines! It begins May 29. A band of bloggers and a photographer always go on the trips, so they'll be live blogging while they're there. If you're interested, you can follow it here. I wonder if they will meet our girl?

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