I wrote the below thoughts as a comment on a post below, but I thought I would stick them here as a stand alone post as they sum up much thought.
More pictures here.
Disclaimer – If you are reading these comments as one of the team who travelled with me, please understand none of these comments are meant as personal attack or even as a “this trip sucked” type thing, but rather in order to ask the hard questions to help us think more deeply about mission and what it is and why we do it. I loved this trip. It was a privilege to travel with the crew from Albany, they were fun, accepting of me (a stranger) in their midst, they were prayerful, generous and gracious! I would travel again anytime with them!
I am home now. It was a very good experience.
I was sharing with the team on the last morning at our buffet breakfast (!!) that the highlight and most memorable point of the trip was the toughest (and wettest) point and maybe in some ways the ‘hardest’ point. It was on the night previous, we were all packed in to the back of the old broken down Ute which we were driven to and from our hotel in every day. It had started to rain, I mean like tropical rain, we were covered in garbage bags and plastic sheets. We were sore all over from running and volleyball and endless re-runs of “head shoulders knees and toes”. We were very tired, it was one of our team’s 22nd birthday and we sat and laughed and told stories all the way back in the pouring rain.
Where else would I have rather been than drenched in the back of an old Ute with a bunch of new friends doing our best to learn how to serve God in another culture, – nowhere!
In fact we spent a whole lot of time wet over there, it was the Sonkran Festival in which people spend about 4 days chucking buckets of water at people…especially westerners! This was great fun!
Sure, I have some big questions about some issues;
– Is not our contrast in living arrangements, similar to what Hudson Taylor objected to in China? That the rich westerners retreat to their wealthy compound and eat and drink and swim (and blog!) in western ways?
– Should we not have spent more time previous to our arrival actually asking the local leaders what it was that they required of us? Rather than telling them what we wanted to do? Offering simply to come and do and go what and where they wanted us.
– We gave our time and some of our money, but did this really hurt us? Was this trip a sacrifice?
I feel that just getting out of bed each day and finding the physical, emotional, spiritual and financial resources to go another day for these workers in the leprosy colony was struggle and a sacrifice. They do this every day, sometimes endlessly without break for months on end. Could we have slept on the floor in a hall for 5 nights? The kids did. Maybe a tent? It was even suggested by one of the leaders that “you visitors need to get away for your own strength, you will wear out if you stay here, the children will never let you go”.
This may be true, and I appreciate their concern. But they have to do it every day. Some were so worn out they were talking about having a year out just to recover.
– Was teaching English so it becomes easier for westerners that visit? I tell you it certainly would be! But again, this is about us, not them. Was there some other thing we could have invested into that would have been of more benefit to them?
Questions I Wished I had Asked.
There were things I didn’t ask that I would have liked to. Sometimes because I was gutless, sometimes because the language barrier was limiting, and sometimes I just was not sure I wanted the answer.
– Is our visit helpful or just an extra pressure for the local workers?
– Am I exploiting these kids by using their photos without their permission?
– Should we have just sent the $15 000 we spent to get their?
– What is the long term benefit of this trip both at home and away?
– Should we be teaching our ways, or learning theirs?
– How much lead time do the locals need before we drop in on them?
– Should we have given more time to learning about cultural issues? (shouting and raised voices are OK in an Aussie context but offensive in Thailand, Pointing sole of foot to a person is an offense etc)
– Do the leaders always eat separate from the kids and other workers in their culture or was it just for our benefit?
– If the local leadership could have anything from us, what would it be? Labour? Money? Just people to hang out with? Just what we did?
Or join them in playing volleyball (a favorite of theirs) as we did later on.
– Shopping in Bangkok…This can be addictive! Before and after the time in Surin (Leprosy Colony) we had a day or more in one of the cheap shopping hubs of the world.
I think that some discipleship/teaching around the issues of consumerism would not have gone astray. (Even people not going overseas should have training in this new religion called consumerism). In one shopping centre hung a series of massive neon lit signs calling out to the ‘consumer spirit‘ –
As I moved from one shopping centre into an adjoining one there stood a massive sign
to encourage me to continue my quest for consumer satisfaction.
Consumerism is the fastest growing “religion” our world knows. Its converts and followers are from no specific social, economic or cultural group, the poor and the rich are converts to consumerism.
At one point I was asked by one of my fellow travellers, “Did you buy anything here?”
“No I didn’t”
“I did not see anything I need” (I needed a new pair of shoes)
“But there are lots of cheap t-shirts here”
“I don’t need a t-shirt”
“But you can never have enough t-shirts”
(No judgement intended here, as I felt the same way later on, see below)
The contrast between the great need in the colony and our endless consumption in the city was too much for me to bear at times. Sometimes I just needed to separate myself from the shops and sit outside and wait for the others.
I say all this not either to judge or to elevate myself to some godly high, but to emphasise how blinding and subtle the consumer bug can be. Sure we had flashes of generosity, the offering bag was sent around and I think as I place in some paper money, “This will be the biggest offering they have seen for a while!”. (The reality is that it was probably AUS$150 less than the biggest offering I ever gave at a Hillsong Conference offering)
The group generously bought a fridge for the colony from the funds they brought with them from their church, awesome!
My work paid for all my expenses, so no real sacrifice here, no pain.
The kids with no Compassion or World Vision sponsorship live off 5 baht a day. I changed AUS$5 at the airport on the way home to buy some food. I got 140 baht for my AUS$5. Work that out!
I brought 2 shopping bags of new clothes donated from Pumpkin Patch, nice – but PP could not have sold them, they had broken zips etc (my Mum’s neighbours fixed them all) so it was no big cost to Pumpkin Patch or to me.
My point? I guess I just felt a strong contrast between the people we ministered to and ourselves, particularly in the area of use of finance and the way we consume.
My confession – I had a day to myself before flying out. I thought I would do a half day shopping looking for shoes and some gifts for my family, then the other half wandering around some of the poor areas and in some local markets near where Ash and Ange Barker and kids live from UNOH.
I looked for hiking shoes and found ones that were the same price as in Perth, so I bought a pair of $50 runners and 3 pair of socks, some local woven handbags and a pair of pants for my kids and wife. I was on my way out of the shops when I saw a small monocular (like binoculars, only smaller and lighter – good for hiking! I bought it – $10) Then I saw a Sony shop…then I realised I was enjoying this feeling of spending money and I wanted to shop more and MORE and MORE…The bug had it’s hold on me, seriously, buying stuff is addictive, once you start it gets a hold…the next day as I walked off the plane heading towards customs at Perth airport an interesting sight hit me, a massive shop, with a sign above “Last chance for duty free shopping”. Like moths to a flame, our plane load of consumers swarmed to this shop, like they had never seen a bargain. They swooped on the cheap alcohol, perfumes, and assorted goods like shoppers for a bargain on the day after boxing day at Myer! As I walked past these frenzied shoppers I noticed the price on the Baileys Irish cream…not bad…something triggered inside, I paused, looked at the other ‘bargains’, maybe some nice red wine, aftershave…I could just…aghhh the claws sunk deeper…I dragged myself away, screaming on the inside…victory to self control, defeat to consumerism…was a close call though!
Consumerism is addictive, subtle and dangerous. It makes me focus on me, it tricks me and confuses me between what a “Want” is and what a “need” is. It makes me forget about people in places like Surin leprosy colony that have no car, no fridge, no clothes, who have experienced times so hard they have lived off little more than a banana a day for months at a time, people who sleep on the floor of a hot small store room.
This is about me, I know it might come over as critical of our whole team.
Honestly these guys were sooo great. We all got on so brilliantly. They are great servants of God.
I have probably read more and thought more about these issues, I never once expect the team to suddenly have the same revelations I have been having in these thoughts. But I do hope at least that they (and others) might read some of my thoughts here and be challenged, and challenge me back on some of these thoughts. Just because I think some things does not make me right.
For great discipleship resource on Consumerism click here. (The Trouble With Paris)
Also see TEAR
More pictures here.
Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.
And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.