Before I get to the "So....why?" thing, take a look at the pics above. The first is the church we are building in a community called "Bastion Popular". It is basically a squatters community about an hour north of where we are staying. Dirt roads, open sewers in the street, bamboo houses, and actually a little sporty from a safety perspective (we have to leave every night by 5pm because they are worried about kidnapping, etc.). The medical and evangelism teams have also spent quite a bit of time in this area. The bamboo building on the right side of the 1st picture with the blue sign (that reads "Church of God, Jehovah is Our Refuge" is the church we are trying to move from bamboo walls w/ a dirt floor to concrete block walls with a concrete floor. The second pic is of Greg Bigbee being his usual useful self. The guy works and works hard. The last is a victory photo of Josh with some guys from the team after they spent almost two hours yanking this 300 lb stump from it's home of decades because it was in the way of where we wanted to pour a concrete pier foundation. Bottom line, the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs stretch for miles here, so here we are trying to submit and be used.
As for the "So...why?" part, I've gotten this question a few times from folks in the church and out. It mostly comes in the form of folks wondering if this would be a "better" use of their charitable giving than what they might be currently doing or they wonder, if I'm gonna go someplace, why don't I go someplace in the states that is racked with the needy. Those are good questions. I wanted to use this post to communicate a more thoughtful answer than what I'm usually able to provide real time.
Let me take what I think is the easier one first - why out of the country? My thinking here comes down to making a distinction about the level of need. In our country, many of the poorest have cell phones, utilities, access to some kind of assistance, and at least have someone, somewhere in their family with access to some kind of resources they could call on if they absolutely needed to. And if not, there are churches on every corner and a multitude of faith-based organizations available to them. They mostly also live in safety. I recognize there are groups of exceptions to those generalizations, but all I'm saying is that, in general, America is still a pretty safe and blessed place to live. My exposure - personally and through talking with others and research - is that the difference between being "needy" in the US and being "needy" in a place like Ecuador is more like the difference between "comfortable" and "Bill Gates comfortable" in the US. As Pastor Dial recently said, these kids have no hope. Most are pregnant or kidnapped by their early teens as girls, or hooked on sniffing glue or in jail if they are boys. Unless somebody shows up and tells them that God loves them, introduces them to a pastor, and invites them to a church built for them to take refuge or worship in, how is tht gonna change? So that is my reason for thinking outside the US about this stuff.
Now for the charitable giving thing. This is harder because it obviously involves very personal decisions about priorities. So, I wll just share my thoughts for you to take as you will. I came to quite a while ago where I began asking myself, given that God owns everything I have, am I doing what is scriptural with what is His? My job, my resources, my house, my truck, even my family, etc., and surely my time. He has made me a steward of those things and I'm responsible for what I do with them. Matter of fact, all of God's resources on earth are in the hands of people - all the money, experience, knowledge, time, and even the gospel message of his love (somewhat) is at the mercy of human beings and their free will decisions. Some people are very blessed and/or know Jesus, some are very needy and may not know Jesus. So, how does God get His resources and the gospel message of His love, which we steward, to people in need? The answer that is still coming clear to me, the answer that draws me to Manna House and Ecuador and things like that, is that ultimately all those things are dependent on people. Somebody has to take money donated for Ecuador trips and actually do something with it. Somebody has to actually be at Manna House to give out all the stuff people donate. Most people are led to Christ by somebody who went to where they were at and actively shared Christ with them. I could go on and on....hopefully you get what I mean....all the things made possible by the donations of believers are at the mercy of somebody actually doing something. So, for me, the question became, "Why not me?". If I look at Christ's example of going "outside the gate", into the country, to share resources, healing, prayer, and the message of salvation with those who were unsaved, how am I not responsible to do the same? My seeking brought me to believe that these are responsibilities of every believer. So then the question became what I was going to do about it. So that is the simple version of how I ended up in Ecuador typing a blog about it :-).
Speaking of Ecuador, it is amazing. Dozens led to Christ every day, miracles, a woman delivered from a demon (as told by a pastor who is, by his own admission, as just as much the "chief among skeptics" as Paul was the "chief among sinners). I'm sure the experience varies person to person, but as pastor Dial said tonight, it is real kingdom building stuff that would not be happening if real people had not left their comfortable jobs and comfortable environments and spent their own money to come here and be Christ's hands, feet, and mouth. And at the base of it all, that is "why".
Love you all and appreciate your prayers,