Day 7: in retrospect

April 19, 2010

Yesterday was the last day of the challenge, and a real eye-opener.

In the morning I was feeling sick, so I went to the doctor’s office after church and he said I have an infection. (Not contagious, so no worries!) He said it wasn’t a big deal, and was probably accentuated by malnourishment (in one week?!).  I went to the Pharmacy and got my medication, and that’s when it hit me how different two worlds can be. In one world, we can go to the doctor for no cost at all, and get affordable treatment.  In another world, a simple infection could become a serious issue — and could even cause death.  Not only that, living on one dollar a day compromises the immune system, which means that for the poor, not only is recovery more difficult, but the chance of getting sick increases.  I realized how much I have to be thankful for.

For us, today was a light at the end of a short tunnel through pseudo-poverty (which really doesn’t even come close).  For others, yesterday’s unexpected sickness could have been a death sentence.

Last night we were at a communion dinner (our way of breaking the fast), and one lady stood up and spoke about people in the country she grew up in.  She said, “they have such hope in Jesus, such dependence on Him, because they truly wait on Him to meet their needs.”  In the midst of poverty and struggle, there is hope.  And as the Apostle Paul says, “hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:5)

Today we had a huge breakthrough in our prayer time.  When God leads us to a place of dependence, He shows us how faithful He is to carry us in the midst of whatever struggle comes our way.  And His Spirit gives us the hope and strength we need.

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Last night I woke up feeling sick; I almost stopped the challenge.  Today the actual eating part wasn’t too bad, but my health has definitely gone downhill.  I feel weaker, and my body isn’t fighting off problems as well as it usually does.

I’m looking forward to the end.  If the end weren’t in sight, I think I would feel a desperate sense of panic.

I wonder if that’s a small taste of what people in poverty feel: despair; panic; physical helplessness.  This week has been a long journey.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to have this as my daily reality.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

We think eating healthy is such a basic thing, but for so many people in this world, it is an impossibility.  It doesn’t have to be.

As I again cross the trembling line between their world and ours, what will my response be?  Will I close my eyes?  How much do they mean to me?  How much does their pain affect me?  I think what’s startling is how as a continent, we have the financial resources to eradicate world hunger and barely feel the pinch.  So why don’t we?

What would it take for us to care?  For me, and you, to truly care?

Day 5: bright and sunny

April 16, 2010

Today was really good.  We had only minimal hunger pains, and for the most part we were less irritable than we have been the past few days (word of advice: this challenge can be hard on relationships!). Once again we are reminded of the everyday blessings we so often take for granted.

Dinner times are a huge highlight; that’s when we have rice, which is the most filling. We were definitely short on oatmeal, so breakfasts have been pretty meager. I think that makes the rest of the day easier, though, because a big breakfast would kick-start our metabolism anyway.

Our prayer times have been great… God is good, and He meets us so deeply in our moments of weakness. Thank-You Lord.  🙂

Day 4: clarity

April 15, 2010

Today was really good. We were encouraged by some friends, and had great times of prayer and worship.  God is good!

The food wasn’t an issue today, and we felt very refreshed overall.  What a beautiful day outside, too.  🙂

fun poll

April 14, 2010

Day 3: back to the heart

April 14, 2010

This morning God brought me back to the heart of why we’re doing this. His heart.

His heart beats with so much love for each person, whether rich or poor, whether here in Canada or elsewhere in the world. His heart is that people would come back to Him, would seek Him, would cry out to Him and find healing in His name. The Bible says, “The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.” (Psalm 145:13)

God is not just a far-off deity or some great ideas written down on paper. He is real. I know because I have encountered His presence; I have experienced His healing; I have seen Him miraculously answer prayer.

I also know because of the Bible, truly the most incredible book ever written: it is ancient, but still speaks directly into people’s lives; it is historically accurate and verifiable; its archaeological evidence includes more manuscripts than any other ancient book; it has been studied by thousands of scholars over thousands of years and yet its content has not been exhausted; it is a subject of unparalleled controversy, yet cannot be disproved; it was written by over 40 authors, who lived at different times (over at least two thousand years) in different places, and has been translated into thousands of languages, but its message remains the same.

And the message is this: God is real, all-powerful, and good. He created and loves all people, and calls them into relationship with Himself. People ran away from God and chased after evil, which destroyed them. Because of His deep love for all people (and all of creation), God came to earth in human form — Jesus Christ — to bring people back to Himself and free them from evil’s grasp. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, you can have forgiveness and restored intimacy with God if you call out to Him and believe in Him. God calls everyone who believes in Him to love Him with all their hearts and lives, to love and forgive everyone around them as much as He has loved and forgiven them, and to be humble and truthful.

That is the heart of the matter.

I want to be clear about the purpose of the one dollar a day challenge. I’m not aiming to become a “better person” or “get good karma” or “gain enlightenment” by doing this challenge. I’m also not trying to appease God, punish myself, make myself holy, or make you think I’m a good person. The goal is not even to fundraise or raise awareness, though that would be great. The goal of this challenge is love.

Love for hurting people; love born out of empathy and community, leading to intercession (bearing someone else’s burden as an act of mediation/prayer). That’s the kind of love God first showed us through Jesus.

Today God dealt with some ugly pride in me. He reminded me that this challenge is merely a warm-up lap or training exercise for a marathon. The value of the warm-up will only be determined by how I run when the warm-up is done. You see, the difficulty in doing this challenge again is I feel a greater temptation to become lazy in the familiarity of it, depending on myself and my past experience rather than on God. Because of that struggle, I’m realizing the danger of having a little bit of knowledge; it’s easy to grow proud and overconfident, to think I understand and respond to poverty better than I do. In fact, doing this challenge may be a dangerous patch for the serious problem of poverty, if I allow complacency to tell me that the challenge alone is enough of a response.

Eating like a poor person doesn’t improve my character or help poor people; it just makes me hungry (and possibly more irritable). True, it alerts my senses to the plight of the world, but if I don’t follow through, that empathy can rot into a false sense of understanding and helpfulness while the world’s cries remain unanswered. My life has changed a lot since the first one dollar a day challenge, but now I feel compelled that it must change even more. To be completely honest, that scares me.

Have I let my heart break for the world? Then my actions will show it. So call me to accountability, friends!  🙂

1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4We write this to make our joy complete.

5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”    …

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” – 1 John 1:1-7, 3:16-21

I’m remembering this now.  Lethargy rests on me like a drizzly Vancouver day, and all I want to do is sleep. I have to overcome it with a walk outside, something to get me going again. Otherwise I find myself staring aimlessly at the floor, thinking nothing, or twirling my hair with my fingers and watching natural light patterns dance on the wall.

Must… wake… myself… up.

It’s funny how many times today my mind has defaulted to the idea of having a snack. It usually takes me a few seconds to remember that there are no snacks. I normally eat a lot of fruit.  I think my body is looking for a sugar high.

I have a much easier time overcoming hunger when I’m excited about something, or busy with something.  Right now I am staring at the computer screen trying not to think about dinner.  🙂

Two things have given me extra motivation today:

– Erin and Livio have taken the challenge to a whole new level — including not using electricity, using one bowl and spoon each all week, and letting go of other luxuries we don’t even think about.  But I will let Erin describe that to you when she starts her blog.

– I visited the website of an organization called the Wellspring Foundation, and they’re doing exciting things in Rwanda — building schools and working with teachers there to educate and encourage the next generation of Rwandans.  Take a look: http://www.thewellspringfoundation.com.  You’ll be inspired.

God is good.  He gives us strength when we need it!

Day 1: Confession

April 13, 2010

dinner

I’m a wimp when it comes to hunger.  Seriously.

Cause really, I’m eating like a queen — this week included.  That’s the crazy thing.

I’m healthy, I can drink clean water, and this time around, the food even tastes good (thanks to green onions, tomato sauce, and chicken soup base!).  My stomach hurts, but I don’t have parasites.  I crave food, but I have everything I need.

For those who are curious, today’s menu:

Breakfast – oatmeal with cinnamon

Lunch – lentil soup (water, lentils, tomato paste, carrots)

Dinner – brown rice, egg, green onions

What amazes me the most about many people who live in poverty is their generosity.  It’s easy enough to be generous when there are no painful aftereffects, but these people are generous when it hurts.  I remember having dinner with people in Mexico who voluntarily spent their year’s savings on a meal for our team.  Similarly, Craig Kielburger told a story about a young beggar girl who received an orange from a foreigner, and shared it joyfully with the other children.  And those are two stories among many.  Talk about role models.

I learned today that I can be quite selfish sometimes.  When I’m feeling hungry, sharing food with someone else is very difficult.  The desire to share is definitely not a natural response when it means my own needs won’t be covered.  And that is merely at a level of discomfort.  For some, the consequences of giving are much more severe.

I once read a book about acting that said, “True character is revealed under pressure.”  That’s a tough one for me, because I tend to get irritable when my stomach is growling!  But it makes me think of the impoverished people I’ve met with a profound level of respect.  I am inspired by their strength, by their enduring joy, and by their capacity to love selflessly — a capacity I can hardly begin to understand.

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – Jesus (John 13:35)

Lord, teach us how to love.

our menu for the week

Wow, here we go again!  We have been so encouraged, challenged, and inspired by others who are doing the one dollar a day challenge both in North America and abroad.  Friends in Cambodia have blogged about their experience here: http://www.jet-7.net/

So, round 2.  We’re doing the challenge with our close friends, Livio and Erin.  Erin will probably be blogging about it as well, so I’ll provide a link to her site when she starts posting. We’re starting tonight, and ending next Sunday night.  Today all four of us got together in the bulk section of Superstore and selected what we would need for the week.  We have a bit more variety this time around, learning from last time that we didn’t need as much rice as we had thought and some flavor was probably a good thing.  Getting really technical (I’m reading this off the receipt so I can remember for next time!), Ben and I ended up with 1.2 kg of brown rice, 1.1 kg of green lentils, 130 grams of red lentils, 0.5 kg of quick oats, 50 grams of cinnamon, 35 grams of chicken soup base, 2 cans of no name tomato paste, a dozen eggs, 5 lbs of carrots, and a few green onions.  It’s actually pretty incredible what you can get for under $14, if you know where to look.  Once again we watched the items go through the till with a twinge of nervousness, hoping we wouldn’t be over-budget and have to put something back.

It’s funny how our human pride is wrapped up in little things sometimes.  I thought back to times when I have measured my own self worth by expressions of wealth, such as steering clear of the “no name” brand, avoiding the bulk section because it’s less sanitary, not sticking to a rigid budget, and feeling a slight sense of embarrassment at informing the clerk, “If it’s over $14, I’ll have to put something back.”  Money makes us look accomplished, makes us seem mature, makes people think we really have life figured out.  What funny assumptions we buy into.

A friend of mine shared with me yesterday that in her days as a salesperson she once visited the home of a multi-billionaire.  She walked up the long driveway to his mansion and felt dwarfed by his massive entranceway.  Inside, she and her sales partner were amazed to see a beautiful swimming pool, grand halls with elaborate rooms, and shelves of museum-worthy antiques and artifacts — all sitting unused and unadmired.  The lonely billionaire explained that he had no family and no friends.  He could trust no one.  He had no companions except the neighbor’s cat, who came over every now and then for a dish of food and then left.  His servants and housekeepers avoided him as much as possible, taking off immediately after their work ended.  My friend said she felt a deep sadness for the man, who seemed excited that he had visitors even though they had only come to sell him something.  He had sacrificed relationships for wealth.  She walked back down that driveway with the renewed realization that she would rather have very little and be surrounded by love than own all the world and enjoy it alone.

Of course that is the extreme, but it reminded me to check myself.  Where are my priorities leading me?  If I keep walking down this path, where will I end up in ten years?  What’s the next step?

Both Ben and I are asking that question right now.  Our work has slowed down along with the economy, so we are spending more time at home praying together about what God is calling us to do — and, more importantly, who God is calling us to be, including how we should respond to the situations around us and in the world.  We want to know Jesus more, and thus to have our hearts stretched and broken for those in need, to trust God’s leading (though sometimes it may seem crazy), to refuse a life of fear.

As the Apostle Paul says:

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  – Philippians 3:7-14

This is what Christianity is about.  Knowing Jesus.  Sharing and experiencing the abundant overflow of His love in the context of community.  Erin shared this letter with me — she found it in a book called Hungry for Life, by Dave Blundell.  (It’s a GREAT book, by the way! Definitely worth reading.  You can learn more about it by contacting the staff at http://www.hungryforlife.org) The letter is written by an advisor to the Roman Emperor in 137 A.D. and reads as follows:

“It is the Christians, O Emperor, who have sought and found the truth, for they acknowledge God. They do not keep for themselves the goods entrusted to them. They do not covet what belongs to others. They show love to their neighbors. They do not do to another what they would not wish to have done to themselves. They speak gently to those who oppress them, and in this way they make them their friends. It has become their passion to do good to their enemies. They live in the awareness of their smallness. Anyone of them who has anything gives ungrudgingly to the one who has nothing. If they see a travelling stranger, they bring him under their roof. They rejoice over him as a real brother, for they do not call one another brothers out of the flesh, but they know that they are brothers in the spirit and in God. If they hear that one of them is imprisoned or oppressed for the sake of Christ, they take care of all his needs. If possible, they set him free. If anyone among them is poor or comes into want while they themselves have nothing to spare, they fast two or three days for him. In this way they can supply any poor man with the food he needs. This O Emperor, is the rule of life of the Christians, and this is their manner of life.”  (Aristides, In the Meantime, 2009; quoted in Hungry for Life, p. 62)

Wow.  That’s the fruit of lives transformed by the Living Christ.  Lord, transform us with Your love.

I need it

August 10, 2009

This weekend has been very humbling.

On Friday Ben was reading through a chapter of John Ortberg’s book, “The Life You’ve Always Wanted,” and he shared a few thoughts from the book with me.  The chapter was about recognizing and celebrating our smallness.

From our conversation I have a better understanding of why we did this challenge.  We did not do this challenge because poor people need our money, or because other people need this challenge.  We did the challenge because we need it.  I need it.  I need to have my eyes opened, to have my heart humbled and broken, to be in a place where God can work on me.

The truth is, God doesn’t need our money, our prayers, or our devotion.  He doesn’t need us at all.  But we need Him.  And He knows that.  We pray, not because God needs our prayers before He can work (after all, Jesus said even “the rocks will cry out” if people don’t praise Him), but because we need to focus our hearts on God and abide in Him before we can hear and respond to His voice.  Because we need to know God hears and responds, not due to our own worthiness, but due to His very nature of love, mercy, and grace.

And here’s another truth.  People in poverty don’t need our money to be happy.  Most of them are, shockingly, happier than the average millionaire.  God can work miracles in their lives whether we are part of them or not. But we need to give to the poor, and we need to love the broken and outcast.  Otherwise our hearts will shrivel and our faith will wither.  Our selfishness and greed will overcome us and choke out any capacity for love.  We will miss out on what God is doing.  We will not be able to call ourselves His followers or even have a basic understanding of what that means.

I am just starting to get this.  I am nothing — worse than nothing — apart from God.  On my own, I cannot supply anyone’s needs, or give anything of value.  But God leads me through the challenges I need in order to make my heart receptive to Him.  Then, when He works, He calls us to have the privilege of being part of it.

Lord, lead us on.  Humble our hearts so we can respond to Your voice.