Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rags or riches?

Sometimes things come out of nowhere, smack me in the face and strip my soul bare. It happened recently when I read two news stories.
One was about “kiddie couture” with Gucci becoming the latest designer making thousand-dollar clothes for children younger than 12. The second was Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe banning the importing and selling of donated “second-hand underwear.”
It’s pretty easy for me to feel outrage over both. The hard part is looking at myself and seeing the same hypocrisy.

Children at a displaced persons camp in Uganda.
This is a confession. I am a horrible shopaholic. I cannot resist the allure of sales, and every time I need to go out of town, I have to buy new clothes. Well, I don’t have to buy them, as you would see if you peeked into my closets and clothes drawers.
I have been to Zimbabwe three times. Naked children or a child wearing the thinnest shreds of clothing is not unusual. I have seen a lot more of the poverty in this world than 3-year-olds with $2,000 coats, and yet I still spend more than I give away.
Those two stories sent me off into a spiral of pictures flashing through my mind. Always it is the children that break your heart.
I understand that second-hand clothes could be humiliating and thoughtless. But I have seen little boys and girls naked and dirty in a displaced camp in Uganda, in the garbage heap in the Philippines, begging on the streets of Haiti.
Once those pictures are in your mind, you really can’t do much to escape them.
There are as many ways of being kind and generous as there are people in the world who need kindness and generosity. I know The United Methodist Church is working every day in millions of places, and I can trust them to make my dollars multiply. I know people at the United Methodist Committee on Relief that get up every day, look into the abyss and finds ways to pull hands out.
I am far from qualified to preach or even suggest how someone else might do good in the world. Maybe second-hand clothing is not the best thing to give. I am hoping and praying that the next time I feel myself falling into the rabbit hole and rushing to the mall for a sale, one of those pictures will pop up.

Charity really does start at home.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Love and prayers for sweet people of Haiti

UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
I am not one of those people who could tell you where I was on momentous occasions, but I do have a strong memory of what I was doing when I heard about the Haiti earthquake Jan. 12, 2010. My son was home from Boston for his first winter break, and we were at a hair salon with plans to have a nice dinner together after his haircut.

I received a call on my cell phone from my news editor, “Did you hear about the earthquake in Haiti?” he asked. “We need you to come in and call a pastor whose wife is in Haiti.”
Talk about jumbling brain cells. That was the first of many sleepless hours most of us at United Methodist Communications spent calling people who were either trapped in Haiti or had loved ones there.
The news was made more personal with United Methodists among those trapped , two pastors later died of injuries from the collapse of the Montana Hotel. United Methodist churches have a long history of mission work in the poverty-stricken country. A member of a United Methodist mission team also died when the eye clinic she was working in collapsed.

Workers dig through the rubble of the Montana Hotel.
Mike DuBose and I left Nashville for Haiti to cover the story for United Methodist News Service Jan. 20. We met Francisco Miguel Litardo for nine days of traveling around the horribly broken city of Port-au-Prince and some of its outlying areas. Our guides were a team from the United Methodist Committee on Relief -- Melissa Crutchfield and Sharad Aggarwal and the Rev. Edgar Avitia Legarda of the Board of Global Ministries.

I had never been thrust into such a surreal situation before and have not since. Even with all the news stories and photos and video footage from international media, I still was not prepared for the destruction.

We went not knowing whether we would have a place to stay or if food would be available. We packed Vienna sausages and sardines and flew to the Dominican Republic. From there it was a long slow ride into Haiti. The six of us spent the first night in two borrowed hotel rooms breathing diesel fumes from the tanks we brought to keep us on the road. The next morning we experienced a really big aftershock that was terrifying. It added poignancy to our stories.

Most people were sleeping outdoors either because their house was a rubble of unrecognizable rocks or because they were too afraid to be under roofs that might collapse at any moment. After that first night, we stayed at the Methodist Guest House. We were the only people willing to sleep inside. Hundreds, including the guest house staff, camped out on the compound for the church and a primary school. We were soon joined by mission teams bringing medical aid.

I remember flashes: mothers feeding babies by the blue glow from a cell phone. A tiny boy getting a bath and his teeth brushed by a loving father in a soccer field. Walking up the twisted road to the site of the former Montana Hotel for a small memorial service for the Revs. Sam Dixon and Clinton Rabb. A lunch of coconuts in rural Mellier. The miracle of turning dirty water into clean drinkable water. The smell of death.
Mike and I returned in 2011 and we saw lots of progress. UMCOR continues to do great work and United Methodist mission teams have streamed steadily into Haiti ever since the quake.

This year, my son returns to school on Jan. 12, 2012. Once again, I am wrapped up in sending him back and breaking those “mother” cords again.
There was no return trip to Haiti this year. But the hole that opened in my heart on that day in 2010 remains full of love and prayers for the sweet people of Haiti.