Tuesday we had the opportunity, and, I say this in the fullest sense possible, privilege, of going into one of the poorest areas of Otavalo, Ecuador. Compassion Canada has been working in this area for 8 years and the impact is tangible.
Our day started out in visiting a family at their home. We got a tour of their house, which was probably just a bit bigger than the size of my living room at home. There are at least five people living in this house (though there could have been more—it wasn’t clear to me). We spent time learning about their day to day routine, which included preparing a fire for roasting some dried corn, breaking the corn off the cob for roasting, as well as picking and shelling some navy beans, and learning a few crochet stitches (Let’s just say that I didn’t excel very well at this last job!). After this, we sat down together with the family to eat with them a typical meal which consists of roasted corn, boiled corn, some potatoes, and a small piece of pork. (I don’t recall the Spanish names for these—sorry!). We listened to them tell a bit about themselves (through a translator) and we had opportunity to ask them questions, and also to pray for them.
The oldest girl in the family, Nellie, is a beautiful 15 year old who, from all appearances, runs the household. She spoke about her love for Jesus and for learning about the Bible through the Church. She also told us of her dream to become a secretary for the local Compassion project.
The youngest girl, Shayla, 4, did a fine job of stealing my heart. She beamed when she saw me, told me her name and how old she was. While we were sitting, waiting for the fire to cook the corn, she came and sat on my lap. Later, when we returned to the Church to spend time at the children’s program, she came also and when she saw me, beamed again and came to sit on my lap. Let’s just say that the hardest part of the day was saying “Adios” to little Shayla.
At the church, we had opportunity to hear the children singing songs, repeating a Bible verse (I believe), and then doing a craft. Afterwards, we convened in the Church sanctuary where the pastor addressed us and thanked us for the visit, and promised to pray for us. How humbling…that he would pray for us. And then, to show us their appreciation, they performed a dance and gave us each a hand-knitted cap and braided “friendship” bracelet.
So what lessons did I learn today?
1) Poverty has different faces, even within the same locale. As I observed the little family we visited, it was abundantly clear that Jesus had made a difference in their home. As a class, we later observed how different these families’ disposition and countenance was compared to even some of the people we saw on the streets who were obviously deeply poor, but had a look of hopelessness and lostness in their eyes. I wouldn’t have believed someone if they told me that you can tell the difference, but after seeing it with my own eyes, I can testify that there was a difference. I’m not sure, in other words, that we can make a blanket statement that to see the poor is to see Jesus; but I do know that for the poor who know Jesus, his presence is much more evident in them than perhaps I have ever seen before.
2) The dichotomy between “social Gospel” and “proclamational Gospel” disappears when you see the kind of efforts being made in one of these projects. Children are both fed and taught, taught and fed, as a unified effort. Drop off either side and you just know that the whole thing would either fall apart, or really cease to be a true embodiment of the Gospel. Kudos to Compassion for their commitment to the “whole Gospel.”
3) I was amazed at the patience displayed by these children. My group were with 3-5 year olds at the Church who were making a butterfly out of a recycled bottle which they painted and glued on wings. We helped to cut out the wings for about 20 children and not once did any of them grab or insist that they should get what they came for. It is hard for me to explain, but I am not sure that typical 3-5 year olds in my Canadian context would be quite as patient. I’m don’t know how to account for this except to conjecture that perhaps, for these children, everything they receive is a gift and they do not have a single bone of “entitlement” in their body.
4) Although I could have said this in theory before, I can now testify that joy does not come about through the abundance of “things.” Nellie and Shayla and Paulina and Vanessa and Rosa (mom) have so very little, yet there was clear evidence of the Joy of the Lord in their faces (especially in Nellie). We might think that those in poverty are “sad” and I’m sure that many, many are. But poverty alone cannot prevent someone from experiencing true Joy.