Saturday, October 6, 2007

What God Did On Conference Day 3...

[I started writing this before passing out from exhaustion Friday night, so the "today" references are speaking about Friday when in regard to the conference. Some of what I say here is strong. It might step on some toes. I'm giving you fair warning! I'm so excited about how God used this "Hallway Encounter" to change my thinking about missions and my behaviour as a missionary. I'm wanting to challenge others to re-think their thought and behaviour patterns as well!]

What a week! The conference is over, and all who attended are left to try to process and absorb all of the teaching. As a volunteer my time was split between attending the conference sessions and manning my station...I was assigned to be a cashier at the upper Resource Station. I never did make it in to any of the sessions today...(I could have, but I felt like I was supposed to be out at my post the whole time) , but I'll be getting the CDs (which I just realized I never picked up after the event, because I was still working) AND the DVDs (which will be mailed to me probably in December.)

Now that I got all that out, I want to focus on how AMAZINGLY God works. I was so brought under conviction and to a deluge of tears earlier today. It was one of those divine appointments that Pastor's been teaching about.

Next to our Resource Station, was a booth that was set up by The Land of a 1000 Hills Coffee Ministry. The ministry is an outreach to Rwanda. What they have done is partnered with the people of Rwanda who grow coffee, and employed many of the poor, the widows, etc. at a very good wage...higher than what they would normally make, and they provide an outlet for those people to sell their quality products at a fair market value price and actually be able to support themselves.

One of the gentleman who works with them was standing there talking to one of the conference attendees. I was next to them pouring creamer into my coffee...minding my own business, and not prepared in the least for the paradigm shifting changes that God was getting ready to put in motion in my life in the next couple minutes. I'm tearing up even now as I think about it. Because I was positioned right next to the two men, I overheard their conversation. Boy, talk about "positioning yourself for change", Pastor!

The coffee man was sharing about when Americans go over to Rwanda (and other countries, as well) to "help the people" with their missions projects. We go over with our missions projects, our plans, our agendas, our programs, etc. And we say we want to make a difference. Now here's the part that started to really get my attention... Yet those same people will go to the markets, the souvenir places, etc. and try to talk them into charging Almost Nothing for their products. [Now he wasn't saying that it was wrong to bargain with them so long as it truly provides a win-win situation, so listen to the whole thing before you get offended!]

We who come from our society of affluence and the land that has sooo much...we get to a place where the people are just trying to survive, just trying to provide enough money to feed their families...and we'll talk them down from $5.00 to 0.50-cents and feel so good about ourselves. Yet, we may have just robbed them of the very opportunity to feed their children that day. [As I share this, the tone I'm using is actually a little stronger than what the coffee man was using. I'm conveying it the way it hit me.]

Some might say, "They didn't have to sell that item to me. I didn't force them to take my offer." Well, that might be true, but since there was no other guarantee of any income coming in, you may have been their only hope. If they didn't sell to you, there might not be another sale that day, or enough sales that day to support them. The man's point was that if we say that we're really interested in helping them, then why don't we treat them like the Word says.

I've gotten off his words a while back and I'm preaching now...I can't help it. As the man had been speak, my conversation of just 20 minutes prior to that flashed through my mind, and my heart broke. I had been talking about Sales to another Resource Center Volunteer. "Somehow" I had started talking about Uganda and our marketplace experiences. You know, "I was able to talk them down to...!" As I thought back to that the Holy Spirit brought such conviction on me, and the tears wouldn't stop.

The Word says about workers that, "the laborer is worthy of his hire," and tells us to, "not muzzle the ox." About the poor, he says, "He that has pity on the poor lendeth to the Lord, and him He will repay." Those of us from Valley Word who went to Uganda in February went there with a sincere desire to help the people. That's why we worked in the hospital and toiled to build the Chicken-Fish Pond Project. So that we could "Teach a Man to Fish." Yet, how would it be for THOSE people once they raise chickens, fish, eggs, and crops from the project if the buyers would only pay them far less than what they were worth, and maybe even at a loss to the sellers? If those were the only buyers, the chicken sellers couldn't say "no." What would they do with their chickens then?

There's no way that I can convey how all of what I've attempted to put into words has affected me and my mindset (1) as an ordinary traveler and (2) as a missionary. I re-read it, and it's so inadequate in conveying the impact that encounter had on me. In talking about it later that day with Pastor Doug, a pastor who I met there at the conference, he echoed my sentiments. He shared a story from the years he spent in South Africa as a missionary. He said that one of the most embarrassing experiences he'd had was when he had taken a visiting church group with him to the market area before they returned home.

The people who sold things in the market were the people to whom he'd been ministering and with whom he'd built relationships over a period of time. One in the group, a pastor as well, came up to Pastor Doug at the end of their shopping experience and bragged about how he'd gotten the seller to come down from the original price in Rand to a MUCH LOWER price in Rand. Basically he had talked the person down 80-90%. Pastor Doug turned to him and said, "Congratulations! You've just succeeded in taking the food out of the mouths of that person's children today! Enjoy your trinket!"

I want to challenge everyone out there who reads this. We can have our cute little slogans, like teach a man to fish, etc. But we can't empower him to do that if we want to take advantage of him in our marketplace dealings with him. If your boss walked in to you and said, "I don't want to pay you what you're making (or what you're worth). I want to get a bargain! I'm only willing to pay you half of what you're making now!" How would you react? Wouldn't be a pretty sight, I'm sure! Let's learn to empower people and allow them the dignity of earning an honest days wage for their work. My life will never be the same...I hope I've at least caused you to think about what I've shared.

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