Friday, June 1, 2012

Adding Value to Life

Monday I will be back in Guatemala with a large team of people from several states. This trip has come together beautifully and I could not be more excited about meeting each person I will be serving with. It's a trip that is a little different than the norm. They requested to spend time working in an orphanage that one of their children lived in before being adopted from Guatemala, so of course we worked in plenty of time for that. We will also be in Pueblo Nuevo and we will enjoy a "free day" so the team can experience more of Guatemala and visit Lake Atitlan.

I wonder how many times I have spoken here about how much our good intentions sometimes hurt those we go to serve. Unfortunately, it is true more often than not and I say that only because I KNOW it. Some people do not like to hear that it does no good to do constant hand-outs of shoes, clothes, hygiene products, toys, blankets, food etc. in these countries and that certainly goes for Guatemala. In fact, as I have said probably hundreds of times by now, those hand-outs truly hurt the people they are given to often. Sometimes we are blind to that fact; sometimes we just ignore it. It hurts the local business owners and it hurts those on the receiving end by removing a little more of their dignity.
When this team mentioned wanting to provide shoes for the children at the orphanage, I held my breath as I waited for the response to my email that suggested we buy the shoes there or better yet, hire a local shoe maker to make the shoes instead of collecting shoes here and bringing them with us. I had no idea if they would go along with my suggestion to raise money here and pay someone there to make them, giving him more income to care for his family. They agreed and I was thrilled. After much help and coordination from staff at Lemonade International in La Limonada (the largest slum in Central America that is in Guatemala City and a place I will be visiting next week as we decide how we may begin working with those that are already working in the area), it was arranged. A man named Otto that lives in La Limonada agreed to make the shoes. He went to the orphanage and measured 29 children so he could make their custom shoes.
With every thing in me, I believe in helping the people of Guatemala (and the world) realize their true potential. I love when people realize that they are capable of doing more than they thought. And we all know that I will do anything to not harm the people of Guatemala with what I think are good ideas and intentions, so bringing shoes there was simply not an option because it would have hurt business owners like Otto.
Imagine the joy I felt when I received this email from Hubert at Lemonade International last night:
"Your shoes are done!!! I went to visit Otto today and they're looking amazing!!! I'm so in love with the design they picked at the orphanage. To be honest, this was a big challenge for Otto, but it was amazing to hear him say, "Now I feel capable of doing any kind of shoes. This has been one of the hardest things for me to do, but now I know I CAN." You're challenge in having him create shoes for such little people added value to his life and now he feels like he grew in his abilities and capacity to excel. Thank you! He went to find soles that are special for the kids learning to walk for the shoes he needed and he's been extra careful with those details. It's amazing to see him and Cristian, his son who is paralyzed from the waist down, work on these shoes.... The leather he used is a much higher quality than the one used for the shoes from the project we developed with him which was already great quality. This is because this leather is really soft so he could make really small shoes. It is really hard to work with leather already and it is something you understand once you see him making the shoes. Thank you for giving opportunities to those that need them the most."
JOY! Overwhelming joy! Isn't is amazing what an order of shoes can do for the one making them, the one ordering them and the ones receiving them? I had no idea that this would be such a challenge for him, but I am so excited that he now knows that he can do anything! God is so good in the way He works out the details.
"Our perspective should be less about how we are going to fix the materially poor and more about how we can walk together, asking God to fix us both."
"Development is not done TO people of FOR people, but WITH people."
"Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good."
Pretty much all of my well-worn copy of "When Helping Hurts" by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert is highlighted and underlined, but those are a few of my favorite quotes.
This is just one example of what I truly believe is the best way to do missions. It cannot be about giving to "the poor". Of course we are called to serve, but we need to be careful that what we call service doesn't further harm to anyone. It's not all about shoes. Far from it. But this is one of those times that I just have to say (AGAIN!)...
The next time you plan on packing suitcases full of crocs and tennis shoes and used dress shoes (or anything to distribute, for that matter) for the mission trip you're going on, remember people like Otto. Every pair of shoes (or whatever it is) you bring to another country to give away takes away from a business like his which puts that MORE PEOPLE in a position where they cannot care for their families. If you really stop to think about it, it just makes sense. It's the ONLY thing that makes sense.
People are not projects.
Check out Otto's awesome work! I cannot wait to meet him next week and hopefully hear a little of his story. What a blessing his hands are to the feet of 29 precious children!