Monday, September 26, 2011

Using your poor kid to teach my rich kid a lesson.


I know it's been a while since I opened the “Are short-term teams a good idea?” can of worms. And I know I said I'd post my opinions on this list of 4 reasons people gave for why short-term missions are super awesome and shouldn't be changed. And I know that was two months ago and I've only responded to reasons #1 and #2. Soooo.....

Here is my obscenely unimportant and completely non-authoritative reply to reason #3:

A short-term Mission taught my kid to be grateful for what he/she’s got.”
If a short-term mission has any value at all, it is undeniably found in its ability to educate the participant. It will stretch your kid's physical and spiritual boundaries by making them truly uncomfortable. It will teach them about a new culture. It will force them to engage with the world in a new way. It will make them appreciate the hot shower, cushy mattress, and abundantly full fridge they enjoy at home. This new found appreciation will last for at least one week. Sometimes more.

But.

As we send throngs of suburban teenagers on short-term missions every year to “learn a lesson”, we have a responsibility to ask ourselves; What are the poor kids learning from all of this?

We're teaching impoverished kids an important lesson, as well, when we wave our arm at a slum and say to our suburban brats, “Don't you see how blessed you are that you don't live here?!”

Poor people aren't stupid people. Poor people aren't less perceptive. Poor people aren't always pleased to be living what we deem “simple lives”. And don't you dare fool yourself into believing that poor people aren't making the exact same lifestyle comparisons you are.

They know.

They know it costs a butt-load of money for you and/or your kid to fly across the ocean to come and take pictures of them. They know that you spent thousands of dollars to hand deliver $200 dollars in toothbrushes and sample size toothpaste. They know the difference between the new shoes your kid is wearing and the old ones you're donating.  They know by the look on your face, by the way you gesture to your teammates, by the way you slather on hand sanitizer before you eat, that your life is very different than theirs.  They know you have way more of everything – food, money, luxury, opportunity - than they will EVER have, and they know you think those things are “Blessings”.  And, yes, they know what an iPhone is. 

When we descend upon the impoverished to improve our family's perspective, we may as well be saying to the mothers of these children, “Pardon me, I'm just gonna use your poor kid to teach my rich kid a lesson for a minute. I'll be out of the way in no time – Oh, and I'll leave you some shoes.... and a toothbrush.”

The not-so-hidden lesson there, the lesson we're teaching kids worldwide, from the suburbs to the ghettos, is that “The rich are Blessed”  - which, of course, means that the poor... can suck it.

Obviously, that's not true. But that's the unintended message that we share with the world when we altruistically say "Look how Blessed I am, I drive a new car".  Somehow, we've lost sight of God's true Blessing, and that is that He is Present.  His face shines upon us.  Rich, poor, ugly, pretty, fat, skinny, sick or healthy, hipsters, hookers, lepers, rockstars; it makes no difference - 

Immanuel... GOD. WITH. US.

ALL of us. ALL the time. No matter what....

Sadly, the Church's humanitarian efforts are sometimes leading people away from this vital Truth. 

Should we strive to teach our own children not to be entitled and self-indulgent? Absolutely!  But it cannot come at the price of devaluing another human being. Even unintentionally.  

Truly, the biggest lessons your kids will learn about gratefulness will happen at home. If you're materialistic, you can expect them to be the same. If you're stingy and selfish, your kids will be, too.

If you practice generosity, you will raise generous kids. Hold loosely to the things of this world, and so will they. If you demonstrate your gratefulness for the life you're living, your kids will pick up on that and do the same. “Grateful” should be learned at home and applied in the world, not the other way around.

If you have an opportunity to participate in a short-term mission with your kid, or to send your teen on one, by all means DO IT – there is much value to be gained from the experience. But consider your interaction with this planet as you conquer it. Give some thought to the lessons you're teaching as you cross paths with folks from all walks of life - and not just to your kids, but to all kids.

They're paying attention. 


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For more on the subject, this article, by Steve Saint, is one of the best I've read on the interactions between Short-term Missions and the world.  Check it out!

I have to admit, I felt in a lot of ways like I was writing this to myself. I've got work to do in the example-setting facet of parenting.... :\