Well we’ve been in Narnia for a little over 2 months now and this Friday marked our 35th day of language classes. There were some pretty big holidays and the election thrown in there somewhere so we’ve had to miss more than we would like. Needless to say, we are trucking along with 3 hour sessions in each of our classes and we have a house helper who knows no English. She is here 6 hours a day and that forces us to use all the Narnian we can.

There is a shop owner at the corner that I’ve been able to talk with pretty much every day and he enjoys the fact that I’m learning the language. He actually looks forward to my visits and wants me to continue to ask him questions about topics I don’t know anything about. I got him to explain the political situation here, how people vote, and what political parties exist. So far our conversations center around sports, the news, and just general life in Narnia. He listens to the radio 24/7 at his little shop operated out of the bottom of his house so he always has something to say. I am thankful to have a friend who is so willing to talk with me and drag me farther along in the language. The shop owner’s wife has really warmed up to Janessa and spent time painting her nails the other day why her h husband and I chatted away about Nelson Mandela.

And if you missed the memo . . . Janessa is pregnant. After so many years of trying to have kids without being able to, she got pregnant only days after being in Narnia. She is about 12 weeks along now. We’re thrilled to be parents and are looking forward to raising a villager.

Serving in the Face of Oppression

A topic I have been meaning to write on lately is serving in the face of oppression while being people with extreme wealth and access to power. The very people that we are serving here in Narnia could be labeled “poor” and some certainly would be put in the category of “oppressed”. I hate . . . absolutely hate using these words as they instantly label people by their most negative quality. For me it is like choosing the worst thing about a person and saying, “yeah we work with those people.” Molested, raped, stabbed, torched . . . if any of those experiences happened to any one of us, I’m confident we wouldn’t want to be reminded of them. Regardless, we do serve in the midst of people from very difficult circumstances and I have been thinking lately about how the “Tys and Janessas” of this world could really distort and abuse their power and oppress the very people they are trying to serve.

Many of you are probably quite aware of how missionaries have abused their power, colonized entire societies, and done atrocious things in the name of their Christian faith. While I don’t see nor have seen overt colonization happen in my 12 years of mission service, I have definitely seen missionaries oppressing the very people they serve. I have seen ministries, several actually who do the following:

They seek out and help a group of people in difficult circumstances. They take these people into their ministry a very critical stage of their lives (drug addicted, orphaned, poor, right out of prison, you name it) an basically shelter them from the rest of the broader society that they (the missionary) views as evil. As these “oppressed” individuals begin to get healed and whole it becomes the desire of the ministry to keep these folks inside their little ministry and protect them forever. The missionaries often don’t realize it but they actually imprison the group and these very people begin to complain when not in the presence of the missionaries who have given them their life’s bread. So yeah, they are trapped and while the missionaries think they are freeing people, they continue to enslave them. Further, this ministry can sometimes become the family business. More oppressed people in the commune means more pictures, more sad stories, and more missions money rolling in. Yep, I said it.

This can be done with so many different groups of people across many societies. The “oppressed” become Lennie’s rabbit in Of Mice and Men who are rubbed to death. It is the “white man saving the Indian” sort of thinking and it surely happens all the time. I’ve seen it with my own eyes (that was sort of a joke). My bigger point here is not just to become angry and point the finger at these wanna-be colonizers, but to ask ourselves “Am I oppressing the people I serve? Could I, yes I, be the colonizer?”

I have recently met the poorest family that I have ever known. They stayed in our house this weekend and I could tell that they had rarely if ever been in someone’s house with running water. We live modestly here and tried to keep the cheapest budget we could when we talked with our mission organization. We are very conscious of these things. But I now have poverty glaring me in the face in a very different context than where we were in the States. How will I respond to my friends who can barely survive from month to month?

Another girl we just met lives a couple minutes’ walk from our place and she is totally alone in our neighborhood. Her husband left her while she was working overseas. And he left her for her little sister. She now has a 10 year old son, no job, and no husband. This is a freaking disaster in Narnian society. She literally has no future. Her family has rejected her and some distant relatives are giving her enough money to pay rent and for her son’s schooling.

I’m not stupid. Yes, seriously, I’m not. I get that some of my new friends are my friends because I have money. I’m from America. And can anyone really blame them? I also know that we are genuinely friends and I want to love and serve them with all I can. That is why all the questions above are so relevant. It is personal.

If we can’t ask ourselves these hard questions and really allow the Holy Spirit to search deep within us on a daily basis, maybe we are not actually as free as we think. Oppression can be distorted truth on all levels. We have to be able to ask ourselves these questions. The goal is that we will be led to servanthood. No task something we are too good to do. Every person matters. Every task assigned by the Lord. And freedom is the cry of the oppressed. Not colonization or removal from society . . . freedom from the chains of sin that hold every person and society in bondage.

Ok, so that is my deal right now. Wanting to glare into the mirror of God’s Word and asks the right questions. I have been thrown into a new environment now where Janessa and I have so much power and money compared to the broader society here in Narnia. I can’t remember ever being in this position in my first three and a half decades on this earth. That sort of responsibility deserves a humble response, soaked in prayer, and fueled by God’s Spirit of freedom. Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost. What an example we have to follow. Here we go again. . .