Wednesday, February 4, 2009

lessons learned in poverty

The word dependence brings up all kinds of baggage in my mind. There are all kinds of dependence - alcohol, drugs, physical, emotional. No one wants to depend on anyone else. Especially in American culture, we all long for independence, right?

Dependence is supposed to be a beautiful thing. Not only is the church supposed to depend on one another, but God longs for us to depend on him. In fact, when we stop depending on him, the bible teaches that we are in trouble. When we think we don’t need him, we have fallen for the biggest lie on earth.

Myself, along with a group of men who recently visited Guatemala, were recently taught a lesson regarding dependence. It’s a similar lesson that can be taught virtually anywhere in the world where there is poverty. It’s lessons like these that bring to life all of the scripture where Jesus says, “blessed are the poor.”

As we visited a poor indigenous family, some of the guys realized they had no food. One of us had asked the boys (ages 6 and 4) what they had eaten that day. “Powder milk”, they said. Turned out, powdered milk had been all they had eaten in several days.

It was an automatic response to run to the market and buy this family some food. No big deal for any of these guys. About $50 would stock this family with a month or so of food. We ran to the market, came back, and put all of the food in their home.

If not for what happened next, we probably would have all left feeling good about ourselves - glad to have been used to help this family on this day.

The husband/father of the house, Luterio, asked us if he could pray with us. The next 5 or 10 minutes was the most beautifully articulated, from the heart, gut-wrenching conversation with God that I have ever heard.

In tears, (shouting/crying/singing/sobbing), this man thanked God for his provision for his family. Among other things, he said in his wonderful and pure harmony of joyful crying and screaming, “Jesus only you can provide for my family when I cannot… You have heard our cries Oh Lord… You brought people who I don’t even know… from the United States… to deliver your gift of provision… Oh God only you have the power to do this… You have heard our cries… You have heard our cries… THANK YOU GOD… THANK YOU GOD… THANK YOU JESUS… THANK YOU JESUS!!!”

When we finished praying, there was a thick moment of silence as we all took in what we had just experienced. What had seemed like a no-brainer, simple act of kindness on our part, we realized, was a life changing moment for this family.

A moment that reinforced their belief in who God is and what he is capable of. A moment that reinforced their faith.

And it was a moment that strengthened their dependency on God.

In Proverbs 30, the writer basically says to God: “Please only give me enough to get by. Don’t give me riches, and don’t give me poverty. Too little may lead me to steal, but too much will lead me to think I don’t need you.”

A fair translation of that proverb might be: “God, keep me dependent on you so I don’t ever believe the lie that I can last a single day without you.”

I think I speak for all of the men who were there that day when I say that Luterio taught us something special about dependence. He was dependent on God for the simple provision of his family – for basic food. I got the clear impression that Luterio had recently relinquished control to God and said “I give up. I can’t do it. Please God, save my family.” That would certainly explain his emotions we all experienced on that day.

Since then I have been forced to ask myself a challenging question. To what level of dependency do I need God? Am I getting by just fine without him?