Sunday, August 31, 2014

Privilege and Responsibility as an American Overseas


I am privileged. I grew up with it, and then I simply took it for granted. I knew my family had more money than our neighbors in their wood slat houses, more money than the ladies with small piles of fruit stacked in front of them at the pasar, more influence than those around me at church who could do nothing but pay the bribe, bow to the will of the police and military, and just live with injustice. For the most part our lives were the same. Eat. School. Sleep. Parents. Romance. Marriage. Kids. Sickness. But in so many ways that I simply took for granted because I was a child, I had privilege simply because of the family/nationality that I was born into.

Then I spent my adult years in the US, enriched by the fact that I knew what life was around the world. So, I was entirely okay with at times being "poor" compared to those around me. I picked up dropped coins in college, thankful for a little more to pay for a train ticket. I paid my way through college. We paid for seminary, lived in small apartments, drove old cars, and struggled to pay our medical bills. We shopped at Walmart and Aldis and Payless shoes and Goodwill. It wasn't always like that, but it was at times.

And now here I am across the world again, and instead of being poor, I not only know I am rich compared to the majority, the people around me know it too. There is no denying it. Based on where I come from (the USA), pretty much no matter what sector of society I come from in the US, I am wealthy here.  It might take a good amount of money and effort to get here, but once here, I am wealthy even when I live on a very small US stipend. I have people who work for me to watch my kids and help keep the house. I could eat at the nicest restaurant in town without batting an eye. My "oh, I just got them at Payless" shoes are worth a week's wages for a laborer.

How do I live with that?? It weighs heavily on me and I find myself wanting to hide it. I am SO so thankful for the ladies that work for us that allow me to go to language school, but I feel guilty that someone else scrubs my bathroom floor. I can get most things at the local open air market but it is much easier and more comfortable to shop at SuperIndo where there is AC and carts and everything in packages. It's more expensive.... but we can easily afford it because it's still way cheaper than US prices. Do you do what you can afford? We have been living in a house without a shower, oven, or dryer, so we are living differently than most of the Westerners. But you know what, my friend lives with six people in a house with a dirt floor and a mat on the floor for living room furniture. Oh right. Perspective.

I sit in school and I recognize that my instructors are young women my age, with kids my age, and I see us as equals. They worked hard, they have a profession, they are doing well at their jobs and are blessing others. And yet when we talk about where to eat, shop, and relax, I realize that they are giving tips for the wealthy Westerners, and they live a different life. I am wealthy.What?

It's hard. Hah, did you hear that? It's hard? Ridiculous. Poor wealthy American girl, has a hard time knowing what to do with her privilege.

As I struggle to know what to do, I can't take a queue from the Westerners around me. They may be wrong. The wealthy measure themselves by the standard of other wealthy folks, and it's too easy to simply continue on as you were. I also sometimes want to hide my wealth, to pretend that I don't have this privilege, because I am not comfortable with it.

Instead I am going to open my Bible this year and read it differently. I'm going to read the many, many passages about money, wealth, and possessions and realize that I am the one that those passages are written for, and that I better sit up and listen and obey. Jen Hatmaker wrote something recently on her blog that was helpful.
Two things I want you to get rid of as soon as you can: first, that guilt. Really. You were born into privilege. You didn’t pick that, earn it, or deserve it – this is simply your lot in God’s sovereignty. The sooner you can quit lamenting your advantages and your distribution of them, the better. God is not engineering a Guilt Trip. Just go ahead and knock that off. He is giving you eyes to see a little better and ears to hear a little clearer, and you wringing your hands and mourning lost years is not helping. You did the best you could with what you knew. Now God is just giving you more to know, so off you go. Don’t be guilty; be grateful, be generous, be brave.  
That's what I want to remember. Guilt doesn't help anyone. Instead, now that I realize what I have been given, what do I do with it? How do I use what I have been given for good and for God's glory? It's not about me and what people think of me and how I feel.... it should be about obedience and love.

And so... I am reading and praying with new eyes.


Anonymous said...

I'm in the US, but I'm a doctor at a clinic for the poor, and our patients are mostly undocumented workers with hard jobs and crowded living conditions. Last week I took care of a couple in their 70's who live in a shack in someone's yard. And I'm the doctor. Sometimes someone goes home with our lunches or money for rent, but mostly we just try to give top-notch medical care. I really appreciated this post.

Kacie said...

Thanks, friend. We are learning side-by-side.