The Same Poverty

Knit bombed trees in Melbourne city. Melbourne, Australia.

Knit bombed trees in Melbourne city. Melbourne, Australia.

I was born in a wealthy, “first world” country. I now live in another wealthy, “first world” country; one where the living costs are high but I have the luxury of speaking the same language. (That is debatable, though.) The culture is different than what I grew up with, a fact that becomes more apparent the longer I live in this hemisphere. Rather than a lot of culture “shock” when I first arrived, I experience culture “stress” over time. But I have electricity that can be depended upon, internet that can mostly be depended upon, and clean water whenever I go to the tap.

No, God did not call me to a nation of obvious poverty, of visible dirtiness and hunger on every corner. Even so, I am learning that if God calls you to serve Him in a pristine place, the same human heart follows you there. The same human heart waits for you, beating in the chests of people who live in a different kind of poverty. Wherever you go the same depravity waits for you in the hearts of the people you traveled far to invest in, or serve alongside…and the same depravity rests in your own heart.

For fourteen months I worked to return to this part of the globe. Now, reflecting, I cannot help but see how God used that time of fundraising and waiting to shape me further. Since returning to Australia in late April, I have seen ministry developments I prayed for and laid awake at night imagining. I have also experienced hard times. I’ve experienced the actions of others that, I know with an unfortunate confidence, had the wrong intentions behind them. I’ve experienced misunderstanding, had my trust and loyalty weakened. I’ve certainly, undoubtedly, experienced the corruption and misunderstanding of my own human heart, the one that tagged along for 10,000 miles across land and sea to remind me that no nation has enough of Him.

New Zealand 027.JPG

New Plymouth, New Zealand.

Some of my missionary friends have been called by God to countries because the clear “lack” caught their eyes – the lack of food, of health care, but mostly the lack of Jesus when compared to their own homeland – and those are friends I consider uniquely courageous and delightfully normal all at once. I originally, however, traveled 10,000 miles in 2013 because I’d been asked, because it lined up well with my not going elsewhere, because God prompted me to walk through this door, because OMS Australia was interested in HOPE61 and I was free. When I traveled 10,000 miles in 2015, to return, it was because God had told me it would be “a long time” until He unveils how to use my eighteen year burden for Europe, because the task here is not yet finished, because He prompted me to continue, and because I am excited by the potential I often glimpse in between what appear to be common, unspectacular moments.

My eyes are caught by “lack,” too. I see the lack that exists inside the deep places that cannot be filled by flashing lights, material objects, or human independence. I see the absence of beautiful, satisfying, holiness, an absence that comes when sexual gratification is advertised as another product to purchase. There is a deficiency of the pursuit of righteousness, a lack of giving God control of even sexual desires, desires frequently branded as uncontrollable. There is poverty in the way sexualized images on screens and on paper have been made normal, expected; a scarceness of dignity for ourselves, and for the human beings in those pictures and videos.

For many years I have carried a deep burden for Europe, despite never going there. This sort of supernatural love is one thing that makes Europe special to me. You could say I “fell” in love. Australia and New Zealand are special because I am being taught to love their diverse populations, differing landscapes, and the mindsets that regularly stand in intense contrast to my own.

Alan's Baptism at OneWeekend, Yarra Junction, Australia.

Alan’s Baptism at OneWeekend, Yarra Junction, Australia.

The “lack” I see intrigues me, and I allow God to place concern for it in my hands – while I am also captivated, even more deeply, by the incredibly good things God could do if men in Australia and New Zealand walk into their church with a passion to see justice in the world, and then leave the church ready to do it in the small or big ways God asks them to. I am crazy about possibility.

God did not call me to a “third world” place where harsh living conditions contrast with intense natural beauty. God did call me to “first world” places where in even the nicest, most law-abiding locations the poverty is found right in the hearts of the people – mine included – even when we try to hide it.

Sometimes I imagine returning to the USA, moving to a town where I am unknown, living quietly alone, working a 9-5, and studying, thinking, creating. True, that’s idyllic. No life is free of struggle, and yet, it seems easier than a career where I constantly highlight evil and also learn that I am not such a saint myself. Perhaps it’s just that my ego would be happier if it had no competition! Sometimes I just want to forget all of this, forget everything I know, start over. Sometimes I don’t know why this is my adventure. Sometimes I don’t want it – but that’s typically when I remember.

I remember the central thing that keeps me going on with the life God has called me into. I know with my mind – not just with my feelings – that He called me here and has yet to rescind the call. This is certain. I’m learning to love and even at the end of horrible, wretched days, I always come back to speaking with Him and knowing that no other voice in this universe or the next is worth following the way He is.

I’m all in.

 

 

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