When Christ leads us on a journey, we will be amazed at what He can transform in us. I want to share part of my personal journey today. My husband died in 2001 at the age of 60 about 20 years after I had given my life to Christ. I’ve told in other posts how the Lord helped me through that passage, so I won’t repeat it here. But, almost immediately, in the midst of my grief, He was calling me to a whole new life and a new outlook. I had no idea that I would be on a 20-year journey to learn to love all people in this world, all the people He created (as well as being a blogger and author).
In the next two years I went to Haiti twice, once for a get-acquainted-trip– the country and the people–10-days long. In the mornings I worked at Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity home for sick children. I would be in the nursery with 10 babies each in separate cribs, attended by one sister. There might be one toy in every other crib. I just cried as I held each baby because I just knew they wouldn’t have any of the opportunities for a good life that I thought were essential—the language being spoken to them, the experiences of play and being read to, and so much more. And yet, their parents, I was sure, made the best choice for them given their circumstances. In the afternoons we met with people who worked with NGOs about their experiences in Haiti. On the weekend two of us stayed with a village elder and his wife outside Port-au-Prince. We were locked in the house at night with a chamber pot in our room, because the Haitians were afraid of the voodoo people who worshipped at the tree at the edge of the village. No trips to the outhouse then. Dinner was fried flour.
The second time I was in Haiti for a month, working at a home for orphans. I worked with the Physical Therapy assistant stretching and moving the limbs of wheel-chair-bound children in the mornings and did simple crossword puzzles in Creole for the healthy orphans next door. There I had such an experience of fear: fear of using the little Creole I had learned, fear of being the only white person on the streets, and fear of traveling by myself to Jacmel on the southern coast. As I confronted each of these fears, I got used to being among an all-black population. The merchants sat along the roadsides with their wares. The people everywhere I went were very poor. But what I saw in Haiti so often was people working together and singing together, a real community in spite of their poverty. The other thing that surprised me was that the wheelchair kids who had no language left me with the distinct impression that they would have been chosen the life they lived.
I also went to Mexico twice, once as a part of my stay at the Mexican-American Cultural Center learning about how the Mexicans worshipped and lived. Their religion is so much more familial—Jesus is their father/brother, Mary their mother, etc., than our headier American Christianity. We traveled one day to Metamores across the border. First, we visited a garbage dump where families were living, all barefoot, and gathering metals to support themselves. Next, we went to a charity in town that provided a resting place for Central American peoples planning to cross the Rio Grande into the U.S. illegally. We met three cousins who had traveled across Mexico hanging onto the outside of freight trains. They were from El Salvador. One of the cousins had been in the States and had gone back to lead his two cousins there.
The second trip to Mexico was to Oaxaca in the southwest corner of Mexico. I was there studying Spanish for a month. Friday and Saturday nights there were free concerts in the plaza—rock or mariachi or other types of music. Plays were happening on the cathedral steps, free also. I was there during the celebration for Our Lady of Guadalupe and the patron saint of the city. Amazing! And community-driven. No one left out!
My son-in-law owned a trailer park in Florida at the time. And He reported that every month someone in the park would come into the office offering to pay part of another person’s rent. All I could think was this: when in America would any middle-class or upper-class person admit to financial difficulties? This was another example of real community.
In Charlotte in 2013 I worked as an interviewer for Crisis Assistance Ministry, finding out how each couple’s or person’s spending went and what the crisis was—usually a medical or car repair bill that they couldn’t pay without help. When we had FEMA funds, we could give up to $1,000, but there were months when there was no FEMA aid, so we had only $150. The cheapest rent in Charlotte at the time was $500. for single-occupancy apartment. It was tough telling people how little we had to give them.
Since then, it has been the books I’ve read that taught me so much. Fr. Gregory Boyle’s three books about the Homeboy and Homegirl Industries in E. Los Angeles told the stories of gang members’ lives that he recruited into working for him. In their backgrounds were traumas of parent’s alcoholism, abuse and more. And I began to understand that people don’t do bad things unless they have experienced trauma, the worse the trauma, the more they act out. Fr. Boyle’s technique after getting them to join them is to love them for a year or more, then go through the job-training process. And that love is transforming to people who were mistreated as children. Four or five years later, they are proud of themselves for supporting their children, buying a house, etc. I really began to look at my own prejudices after reading his first book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.
Since then I have read quite a few books that address the racism and poverty and trauma in our country, like
Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi,
Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit v. Banerjee and Esther Duflo,
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel von der Kolk
My Grandmother’s Hands: Racializes Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem
The Four Pivots: Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Ourselves, by Shawn Ginwright.
I’ve learned so much about trauma and how it influences our behavior and attitudes. I’ve even learned how trauma is handed down generation to generation, not just in the descendents of slavery, but in white bodies as well. And I began to think about my first ancestor to arrive here in America. His name was William Said who arrived here in 1725, sent to America as punishment for stealing a shovel. And I thought about his ancestors, probably of the lower classes who were serfs in England, treated much like the slaves here from the Middle Ages on. And all that has been passed down to me! It’s no wonder that prejudice and judgment gets so concretized in our minds.
This is really just a short version of the twenty years that God took to change my mind about so many of the people I meet. I can now look past the color of their skin and the wrong they did in tune with the love and forgiveness that God has for them and for every other human being He created, including me. It’s been an amazing journey, a transformative journey for me. And I am sure that I still have more to learn!
Questions to ponder over the week: What lesson(s) is God teaching me about life and myself? How receptive have I been to learning the lesson? Am I avoiding or embracing the lesson?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who learn what God is teaching us and apply it to our lives. May we follow Him wherever He leads us. May we be faithful to Him.
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- I am giving away a 10-week journaling guide to Jesus’s Two Great Commandments. If you are interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send it to you, free of charge.
- My latest books, “Called to Help the Poor and Needy” and “A Study Guide to the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount” are now in bookstores and on line. The first is about the more than 2,000 verses in the Bible which detail God’s instructions for caring for those in need. The second is a journaling/pondering guide to Jesus’s most complete sermon.