It was a foggy morning in Lima. We had to go downtown to get E’s paperwork shortly after she was born. It took us awhile to find our parking spot and then we had to walk to the government office. I cradled my newborn, dressed warmly, covered in a blanket, up next to me as we walked. We had to cross a bridge over the busy highway, the noise of traffic drowning our voices out and making it impossible for us to talk as we crossed. In the middle of the bridge, I noticed a pile of blankets. But as we approached, I realized it wasn’t blankets – it was a woman with two small children beside her, sound asleep. They were wrapped in ponchos and asleep in spite of the constant traffic noise below. Maybe for them, the traffic was their white noise needed to put them to sleep? The woman, whom I assume was the mother, had her head bent, a large hat typical of Peruvian mountain folk atop her head, shielding her from the morning winter drizzle. Another smaller hat lay on the blanket in front of her – the typical sign of begging for a hand-out.
At first, I walked right past. The woman and children never even glanced up. But as I gazed at my warm, well-fed, beautiful newborn daughter in my arms, my heart broke in two. I could not imagine what that mom must be going through having to make her children sleep on a bridge in the cold while hoping someone – anyone – would take pity and throw them a couple of soles. My new mother’s heart couldn’t bear it. I turned around and handed her all the soles I was carrying. Our eyes met. I can still see her brown eyes looking at me when I think about it. And then… that was it. I hurried to catch up to my husband and when we returned from our appointment, they were gone.
This summer, my reading choices have really challenged my thinking. I started with One Thousand Gifts, which I’m still working on, to be honest. I moved to Killing Christians and now I’m halfway through No Longer a Slumdog. In the last book, he asks the question: “Is her life as valuable and precious as…” He’s talking about the beggar children of India – the ones in the lowest caste who have never bathed, never been loved, and know no other life than that of mere daily existence no matter the cost. Are their lives as precious and valuable as.. my daughter’s? my sons’? my husband’s?
He precedes this question by describing a scene similar to the one I just shared – a young beggar girl asking him for change and in that moment, he saw her as more than “just another beggar” and as a little girl the same age as his own daughter. It changed his view – and his way of life.
I have to say, that moment on the bridge changed me as well. I am so thankful for this moment and many, many others while living in Peru that opened my eyes to a life drastically different than my own.
Then on the other hand, Killing Christians is a book entirely devoted to modern-day martyrs for Christ. While these stories are not new to me, it did make me imagine what it would be like to be a mom – pregnant, nursing, leading around preschoolers, protecting teenagers – in a country where it’s illegal to be a Christian. How do you hide a hungry newborn? A tired toddler? A preschooler who doesn’t understand the need for quiet? How do you teach your little ones about Christ while simultaneously trying to keep them quiet in public about their faith? I mean think about it – my kids have been known to sing “Jesus Loves Me” at the top of their lungs in Walmart and they ask questions about God while out in public. How would you teach your children to be bold in their young faith yet wise in where they express it for fear of their lives? I can’t even comprehend that.
My husband and I have talked frequently this year about something a friend told us. We have this great friend who’s in his 90’s and still working and still giving to the Lord. He is full of wisdom and one of the things he has expressed to Brian frequently is, “Christians today live for their vacation. They work so hard all year long and for what? Vacation. They don’t take the time to enjoy their families and life in between their vacations – it’s like they work and scrimp and save for those couple of weeks. What’s the point?”
He’s so right. All I hear all the time from pretty much everyone I’m around is, “I can’t wait for vacation!… We’re saving for vacation…. Vacation is looking so good right now!… I can’t help you; we’ll be on vacation… I don’t do ministry in [pick a month] because we go on vacation…. We have to have our vacation time so we won’t be at church….”
I have to admit something to you: I have struggled all summer with the fact that we don’t get vacation this year. Nor did we get it last year. Or the year before. Or… hmm.. we’ve been married 10 years and we’ve never gone on “vacation” in the traditional sense. It has never bothered me. Until this year. For some reason, the constant talk from everyone about “vacation” has gotten me really down on the fact that we simply won’t get one in the foreseeable future. No Disney. No camping. No beach (my biggest disappointment). Not even a weekend away. Our ministries don’t allow for it, nor can we afford it. It’s made me horribly sad on more than one occasion this summer. I’ve even been frustrated at my husband for not “allowing” us to go on vacation, though I realize that it’s not him.. it’s our finances and what we do for a living that won’t “allow” it.
Then, I cracked open these books and my perspective has begun to change. There are families around the world who would give their left arm to live the life we get to live in the States. Families who literally cannot afford to feed their children so they sell them. Moms who don’t have enough milk to nurse their newborn so the choice is to either listen to the baby scream the scream of hunger constantly or sell the baby in hopes it will get a better life. Husbands and wives whose very lives are in danger every single day because of their faith. Who go to church at 1am and sing songs in a whisper to avoid getting beaten in the street.
And I’m complaining because I don’t get a vacation this summer? Who am I kidding?
The sad reality is that most American Christians have no clue what life is like in other parts of the world. They literally live for their two-week summer vacation when they can “finally” spend time with their family, go on that dream trip, do whatever “vacation” means to them. Church on Sunday is in the way of “family time” and “vacation.” Ministry over the summer months? Why? It’s vacation time! No one’s going to come anyway, so why do we need to volunteer?
Yet we find ourselves wondering why the Christian faith is not being passed on and why teens and college kids quit coming to church and don’t make their faith their own. Why would they? Their parents have consistently modeled that “life” is more important than “church.” It saddens me when I hear the excuse, “We don’t want to commit because on weekends we sometimes like to just take off and go do something fun so we probably won’t be at church this summer.” Yeah. That hour and a half at church on Sunday really cuts into your down time, doesn’t it.
The church in the States needs a rude awakening that life is not all about us. Would we still even HAVE our faith if we had to live through a fraction of what people around the world have to every single day? Would we keep our faith even if meant being dirt poor and fearing for our lives? Somehow, I doubt it. Why do I say that? Because honestly, a faith that hasn’t been tested and a faith that is put on the backseat on a regular basis is not a lasting faith.
We need to quit “living for the vacation” and begin living for the Lord. Let our hearts be broken for the poor and needy. Let us remember our brothers and sisters who are fighting for their lives at this moment. Let us put Christ above absolutely everything else- including our comforts, finances, and summer vacations. Prioritize your life so that your children see that God comes first, even if it feels “inconvenient.” Give to the poor; sponsor a child; and teach your children to do the same. Go on a missions trip – take your family! Support a missionary, even if … no – especially if – it changes your finances because then you can experience what it means to sacrifice for the Lord – something those missionaries you’re supporting do daily.
Live for eternity, not the next vacation.