Oh man. That hour and a half was worth the whole trip for me. He quoted some pretty challenging statistics. These are just a few - check out the websites for more.
$20 billion - the amount American spend on ice cream in one year
$18 billion - the amount the World spends on perfumes in one year
$7.8 billion - the PROFIT Starbucks made in 2006
1.8 million - the number of children who die each year for lack of clean water and sanitation
$10 billion - the amount of money the UN estimates is necessary to provide clean water and sanitation to the whole world for one year
I'm typically pretty cynical about these kinds of facts. Sure, it's statistically possible for Americans to solve a lot of the world's problems if they would just practice a bit of discipline and sacrifice. But how to make that happen?
About a week after I heard those numbers, I got an email from my friend Luke who's working at an orphanage in Zimbabwe. He wrote the following about a cholera clinic he visited to pick up the brother of one of their boys:
Driving into the gate of that clinic was like driving into a nurse's worst nightmare. People were being wheeled in in wheelbarrows. There were crowds outside of the building waiting to be registered and seen. Actually entering the building was like entering a vomiting and diarrhea hell on earth. There were long rows of IV bags hanging from bailing twine stretched down the halls and in lines across the rooms. Underneath the bags were rows of people collapsed onto benches, draped across chairs, slumped directly on the concrete. Eyes sunken in, half open, but not seeing. Each person had a 20 liter bucket. Most were half full with watery brown liquid. The floor was wet in puddles. There was a full time mopping crew, but it didn't keep the floor dry. And that was the "observation area." Patients that were actually "admitted" got a cot with diarrhea hole cut in it with a bucket underneath.
It makes this whole problem of dirty water a little more personal. It's estimated that over 3,000 people died in this particular epidemic in Zimbabwe, and those numbers are probably low because people stopped bothering to report deaths. Numbers again, I know.
But what's the way to solve numerical problems? We can throw up our collective hands and say it's hopeless, and continue living our comfortable, safe lives. But this kind of skepticism and lazy selfishness have never accomplished positive change in the world. I think we need to have hope and optimism. Cliche as it sounds, maybe the best way to bring about change is ONE person at a time. It's a little number. Seems insignificant. But it's an awful lot better than zero.
Chap Clark had some good stuff to say. He hit short-term mission trips pretty hard. I've been on two, and I feel like I learned from both of them. But are they really the most effective use of money and resources? Don't get me wrong; I believe in missions and helping the world. But I've often felt that we do small isolated acts of goodness - build a church, sponsor a child, give a family a bag of random canned goods at Thanksgiving - and we pacify our consciences. We think we're doing our part to help. But are we making any real sacrifice? Are we giving of ourselves at all?
I think what matters in the world is relationships - perhaps more to our generation than any other. I saw Mrs. Litchfield at the seminar and she had an interesting idea. What if each person or family focused on one person or family to reach out to? What if love actually became the motivating factor in our help, because we actually had a real relationship with those we were helping? Chap Clark was stressing the difference between service and justice. Service is good, but it tends to happen in shallow, disconnected events. But this concept of deep justice is that helping/loving/ministering to people should be an integral part of our lives, not an event.
These are challenging ideas. For me at least. But I think we should be actively struggling with them. I also believe it's possible to live this way. One reason I believe that is because I see my friends doing it. I've seen the difference that some of you reading this blog have made in others' lives by giving selflessly of your time, money, energy, and most importantly love. Is it easy? Not always. Do you always know how to best help? It sounds like sometimes you have questions. Do you wonder if you're doing any good? Sure. But you don't use those excuses. You keep loving and praying and learning and doing. Thank you for inspiring me and challenging me and reminding me of what (through God's strength) we are capable of.