Categories
parenting

Justice is a Funny Thing

Watching Megan go through the college admissions process has been really hard.

On the one hand, I fully get why we have quotas and the need for diversity. I support it. If I were an elected official I’d vote for affirmative action in college admissions every time. Why? Because achievement isn’t just a personal accomplishment it’s also the result of a system that benefits some more than others. As a result, to make things more equitable, you have to favor one group or class over those who may have been more privileged the whole time.

On the other hand, it sucks when your kid has worked her butt off and the simple reality is it probably won’t matter because the scales are tipped in favor of others.

In high school, she literally could not have done more. She went to the only high school she got into via the lottery system. She took the hardest schedule her school has ever produced, completing 4 years of math in 2, taking every AP class she could, every dual immersion class they offered, she’s a class officer, volunteered like crazy, and interned along the way. She got the highest PSAT, then SAT, in her school’s history. She’ll graduate with the highest GPA in the school’s history– a reluctant valedictorian. And while it doesn’t show up on her transcript in most of her classes she finished with far more than 100% because she did all the extra credit, too. Because that’s what she does. Everything.

Admissions officers will never know she did all of these things not because of her school’s amazing curriculum but despite its failures. Her counselor and the principal barely knew her name until the day she got her SAT’s back in the Spring of junior year. But they know her name now. So do their donors. In truth, she’s never had a science teacher for an entire year. So many teachers… Turnover in charters is a problem and boy has she suffered through it. By graduation only 2 teachers will remain from her first year. Maybe. Three different people taught her AP Chemistry class last year because they quit, got fired, or just dropped off the planet. Consequently, they only got through half the material. So when she wasn’t in China last summer she completely re-taught herself her AP Chemistry class, all by herself, so she’d be prepared to take the SAT subject test… which she did while we were on vacation. Of course, she did great on that too because that’s what she does.

Looking back, this kid couldn’t have done more. And she made it look easy. Fun almost.

I think it’s awesome when kids get into their dream schools. Children of immigrants, refugee kids, kids who were homeless, or in foster care, or disadvantaged because of their race, ethnicity, gender identity. I cry when I watch videos of those kids opening up their emails and learning that their dream school selected them.

But my kid has dreams too, you know? I long to watch her celebrate like the kids in those videos. I want her to know that all that hard work has paid off. She too is hoping one of those big, fancy schools selects her. And who knows? Maybe they will? But probably not.

Over the past few months I’ve watched her pour herself into selecting the right schools for the right reasons, working tirelessly on essays– pulling all-nighters, getting recommendations, and everything else while raising her GPA even higher and managing an internship.

I say all of this because it’s been hard to watch Megan navigate an admissions system that, because of reasons we intellectually agree with, is built to favor things she can’t change about herself. She’s done all of the work but this system isn’t built as a meritocracy, it simply doesn’t favor her. She’s too normal. She’s just another middle class white girl with perfect everything. Dime a dozen.

And so we wait. She gets it. We get it. I get it.

But it’s hard.

Justice is a Funny Thing

Postscript

I wrote this angsty little essay on January 4th, 2019 as a reflection on all of the effort that goes into just applying to colleges. At the time she had submitted everything and was just beginning two months of waiting.

I decided to hold the essay instead of publishing it in the moment so that the dust could settle on the process. I’m glad I did.

Ultimately, she was accepted at 5 of the 11 schools she applied to. 5 acceptances, 5 rejections, 1 waitlist. Everything is peachy.

Categories
Social Action

The view from the other side of the fence

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The New Colossus

Seeing these words painted in protest on the newly built, hugely fortified border fence in Playas de Tijuana, was eye opening. What happened to us? How did we get to this place? And where is the America of Ellis Island?

Here’s what we know. The American society we all enjoy is built on the backs of cheap labor. While we complain about expensive gas we enjoy cheap foods picked by nameless, faceless, undocumented people throughout our country. And that’s just the people who likely went in debt $5,000 to cross our monster border. We so easily forget about the hundreds of thousands of hands that manufacture goods in Tijuana.

Two weeks ago, I went into Costco and spent $230 on a new flat screen TV. I confess I never thought about the hands who assembled it in TJ or somewhere like it. Their fingerprints were invisible on the box. Their breathe filled space in the box between the styrofoam and the cardboard. But it was their product I purchased. We are enjoying their faceless handiwork.

I didn’t think that the person who assembled my TV makes less than $60 per week working 60 hours lives just 45 minutes from my home. That person might live in a community like I visited yesterday. It’s a place that doesn’t technically exist though several thousand people live on the flood plain of a river below the plant where toxic waste is routinely dumped. There’s no running water. No toilets. No showers. No electricity. And since they don’t have legal rights to the land the government can decide to move them out whenever they feel like. A team from Centro Romero was there a few years back when bulldozers did just that. They gave families 5 minutes to leave before bulldozing half of the community for a canal project.

When I bought my TV I didn’t think about the children who will grow up playing in the toxic mess while both parents are off at the assembly plant. I didn’t think about the miles those kids would have to walk to get to school. I didn’t think about the realities of their birth defects caused by heavy metals. I didn’t think about the loan sharks and child traffickers who make their living keeping these young families stuck in these conditions.

All I know is that I smiled when I bought my $230 TV at Costco that Sunday. It was cheap. I got a good deal. And our TV was broken.

It’s easy to hear about our nations billion dollar fence and feel good about it. But know that we’ve not stopped the flow of illegal immigration. As one of the signs said, “If you make a 12 foot fence we’ll build a 13 foot ladder.” All our fence has done is made the journey more treacherous. Along one stretch of road we visited a memorial to the 4500 documented deaths of people attempting to cross the border. It’s also gotten more expensive. Until recently, it only cost a few hundred dollars to hire someone to get you across the border. Now the price is around $5,000. How do people making $56 a week afford that? They become indentured servants on American farms. 

It’s easy to say things like, “I’m all for people immigrating to our country, they just have to do it legally.” Those are easy things to say from this side of the fence. These are easy things to say when you were born here. These are easy things to say when they are nameless and faceless to you. But also think about your $230 TV or your $1.99 fresh strawberries or your $10 t-shirt. It’s easy for you to say those things when you are enjoying the fruits of their oppression.

My challenge to you is to do what I’ve done. Take the time to learn their stories and walk in their shoes. I’ll take you to these places if you dare.

And then you’ll ask yourself– which side of the fence are you on? 

 

Categories
Books

Sticky Faith Book Club, Chapter 6

Sticky FiathThis is part 5 in an 8 part series on Sticky FaithJoin our book club by signing up here. (part 1234, 5)


Kristen: 
Since moving to San Diego, two opportunities stand out where our kids were “getting it”. Three years ago our community group befriended a local refugee family. We assisted the family in a variety of ways – purchasing groceries, advocating for the dad when he was treated unfairly by an employer, and serving as a go-between at parent teacher conferences, etc. One member of our community group even attended the birth of their youngest child, assisting them with hospital paperwork and helping them find comfort in the unfamiliar hospital environment. We did fun things too, like sharing meals, playing together and taking them to the zoo and ocean for the first time. My personal favorite was snuggling with their newborn daughter each Sunday during church. The following year myself and the kids had the opportunity to tutor refugee students as part of an after-school program. I enjoyed the weekly sessions knowing that Megan and Paul were welcome to come along. Even before reading this book, the idea of serving together as a family has been pressing on my mind. Chapter six only made it’s importance more glaringly obvious.

Adam: OK, so as of today we suck at this chapter. All of it. From top to bottom the McLane family needs improvement in this area of parenting.

I hope I didn’t sugar that.

In the course of our day-to-day life Kristen and I are pretty active about getting past issues of service and seeking practical justice. And while we do a decent job of talking to our kids about the nuts/bolts “why” questions of why we do what we do… we aren’t very good about getting them involved in acts of justice.

“That’s not fair” – This is the mantra of our house

Life’s not fair. Cope and deal kid.” That’s probably not the most compassionate thing to come out of my mouth. But I struggle with the “fair” game our kids play at this age.

Perhaps some of that is a developmental issue with our kids age? Megan (10) is just now starting to grasp the idea that she can serve others for a purpose greater than the reward she’ll earn from mom/dad for doing it. Paul (8) is happy to do just about anything with us… but he’s far from cognitively grasping an act of service as a form of justice. Justice for an 8 year old is getting to eat the same amount of Halloween candy as his big sister or having the same bed time.

Chapter 6 was a wake up call that I can’t just teach justice at church. And I can’t just practice justice personally. I need to teach my kids what justice looks like in our daily lives.

What I loved about this chapter is that it’s not too late or too hard to make changes. Heading into the tween and teen years we are fortunate enough to be positioned to do some really cool things with our kids. Whether its serving alongside them on one of the many service opportunities at church or having them join me on one of the justice projects I’m a part of… having made the connection that is isn’t enough for mom/dad to seek justice but it’s important to our kids spiritual development, those are adjustments we can and will make.

An addendum to chapter 6 for my friends in youth ministry:

As Kristen and I debriefed chapter 6 we talked about the disconnect between the examples of justice work given in the book and some of those in vocational youth ministry we know. It’s not that the examples given were bad, not in any way, they were just representative of a small minority of well-resourced ministries. We laughed together that some of the people following along with this book club don’t even know that churches like that actually exist!

I’ve spent many nights in homes of youth workers across the country. I’ve shared coffee at their kitchen tables. I’ve sat in their offices. I’ve heard their stories of extreme faith and deep poverty. (I’m not trying to dishonor anyone– but you need to know that many people in youth ministry are truly poor.) As I read this chapter I couldn’t help thinking of those dramatically under-resourced folks. While relatively powerless in their ministries they faithfully serve Christ day-by-day.

And I wonder if their kids look at justice a little differently? I wonder if instead of putting together some elaborate plan to teach their kids an object lesson on justice that they need to experience justice themselves?

Maybe someone needs to stand up for them? Justice for many ministry families is a liveable wage. Or health care so they don’t have to chose between a visit to the doctor and their light bill. Or even realistic expectations on their parents so they can be good parents.

As I think about those families, and not too long ago the McLane’s were one of them, I think that teaching justice to their kids looks a little different. Kristen and I joked (Not a funny ha-ha joke) about the choices we were forced to make. We willing chose injustice for our family for the sake of our ministry. Nights when we turned the heat up to 67 and served snacks we couldn’t afford for the sake of hosting an adult small group. Or times when we gave to up our vacation money to support things our church bailed on. Or times where we told our kids no to things because we couldn’t afford them in full knowledge that the senior pastors kids bragged about getting the same thing.

I just want to acknowledge these injustices as we think about teaching sticky justice to our kids. We can’t glaze over the injustice we experience and think that we’re teaching our kids anything. I think as we wrestle with this as a ministry community and try to iron out developing sticky faith in our kids– we need to wrestle with some of the justice issues in our own kitchen. Because when you experience justice for yourself you don’t have to learn about what justice is anymore.

Discussion questions:

  1. Kara shares how her and her husband define their family. How would you define your families priorities? What would your kids say?
  2. How would you describe your ministry role as justice instead of service?
  3. Tell us about a time when you and your family served together.
  4. Think about a few things your kids love to do. How can you help them connect their areas of interest to pursue justice in some area?
Categories
Social Action

The high cost of tomatoes

1. The Unsavory Story Of Industrially-Grown Tomatoes - Clip from Science Friday, August 26th 2011     

Source: Science Friday – August 26th 2011

I love tomatoes. They are a seasonal treat I grow in my garden. At the peak of the growing season we were getting 50+ per week from our garden.

Key word: Seasonal.

Americans have no concept of seasonal food. We want what we want 12 months per year in complete denial of natural growth cycles. In other words, if you want a tomato on your salad to start your annual New Years diet, you just go to the grocery store and get it.

Here’s the thing: Tomatoes don’t grow naturally that time of year. There are places in the world where tomatoes grow well during a season. But in the middle of the winter your typical beaf steak tomato doesn’t grow anywhere in North America. At least not naturally.

So why can I buy them year-round? 

Supply and demand has a dark side. As the audio from the August 26th version of Science Friday documents, those low taste, high cost winter tomatoes you buy at the supermarket come at a very high cost.

  • About 120 chemicals are needed to make those tomatoes grow in Florida.
  • 8x’s the pesticides are needed for Florida winter tomatoes that aren’t needed for ones grown in California.
  • Many are hand picked and cultivated by modern-day slaves…. in Florida. (More than 1200 cases of such have been documented in recent years.)
  • They are picked when they are completely unripe and bright green. Then they are gased to turn them bright red, even though they aren’t ripe.
  • The reason your store bought tomatoes have no flavor is that they aren’t raised in soil, they are raised in sand. (No natural nutrients, sorry)

What’s the point?

If you knew that you were buying something produced by modern-day slavery in your own country, would you still buy it if it were a good deal?

My advice? Next time you sit down to eat something or make a meal ask yourself… where did this food come from? What were the farmers who produced it paid? And was this food made under conditions that honor God?

You might not want to know. But the reality is that there is an entire industry out there who doesn’t want you to think about where your food comes from, they just want to get rich off of your ignorance.

Categories
youth ministry

Immigration, Dreamers, and Youth Ministry

Immigration reform is a political football. Unfortunately, it has become one of those things that you don’t talk about in polite company. And while I don’t claim to know enough to know how to fix the massive influx of people coming to our country illegally, I do know that we need a pathway to legal residence and citizenship for the students in our ministries who were brought here by their parents.

I think when you get personally involved with students in this situation it becomes less an issue of politics and more an issue of justice. They are stuck. This stuckness kind of defines them and becomes the biggest obstacle they face.

Here’s the story of one student, highly successful academically but otherwise stuck:


No one actually prefers to risk their life crossing the border, leaving behind memories and childhoods, leaving behind their mothers and fathers and leaving behind their children. No one comes to this country because they want to be exploited, and treated less than human. No one migrates to this country and wants to identify as “illegal”. Their decision is not done out of thin air, there have been structures and policies that have pushed many to migrate (NAFTA, Bracero Program, Imperialism, privatization). My parents migrated to the United States because they wanted a better life for their children.

My mom worked in factories, and my dad worked as a cook. They paid taxes (still do), hired lawyers, paid fines, got robbed by lawyers. But most of all, they lost many nights of tucking me to bed, many nights of reading me books, and combing my hair and seeing me walk for the first time. They sacrificed those nights for a better future for me. They are not illegals, they are my parents. They are strong courageous and admirable.

I remember the time I was reunited with my parents; I was about 5 years old. I arrived in Harlem. They pushed me to be the best I can be; making sure education was a priority, motivating me to always be honor roll. And that is what I did, I excelled in school. I hoped time would soften the difference between others and me. I always knew that I was undocumented, but I trusted there was a fair system that would fix that up. My dad promised me my status would soon change, lawyers promised him that too. But no results. I knew my undocumented status put me on a different path than those friends I hung out with. There would be no Cornell University, no going away, no trips abroad, no teaching, no career, no fraternities, and no peaceful nights that did not consist of thinking of “deportation” or “illegal”.

Read the whole story

If Sonia were a graduating senior from your high school ministry, what advice would you give her?

Do you agree or disagree that the Dream Act is more a justice issue than an immigration reform issue?

Categories
Church Leadership Social Action

Worth fighting for

The last few days I’ve been following the story of Shaun King, an Atlanta church planter and friend of YS, who recently discovered his former boss & pastor has admittedly molested and raped some children.* After doing some further research Shaun learned that other church leaders were aware of the situation but remained silent.

Not Shaun. He took to Twitter to expose the problem. Here’s how he kicked things off:

Bishop Johnathan Alvarado of Total Grace Christian Center is a child molester. In the name of Jesus I declare this must end RIGHT NOW. @shaunking – March 13th, 2011

Here is the crux of his demand:

I have heard the worst, learned of his admission of guilt, yet he continues to serve and preach. Kids get the raw end of this deal. No more. @shaunking – March 13th, 2011

And he didn’t back down from there. He has continued to press on. Laying out his case and defending it with more evidence. Even if you don’t like Twitter, please take a few minutes to read through Shaun’s tweets from the past few days.

You will see righteous anger in action. As he says, “I will STAND FOR KIDS 100 out of 100 times.

It is the embodiment of Ephesians 5:11-13:

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.

I know many are offended by Shaun, his tactics, and think that he is somehow giving the church a bad name. Are you kidding me? If these allegations are true, (and it seems the pastor admitted to them) young men were raped, families paid off, and the pastor went right on preaching? That’s a disgrace and we need to applaud Shaun for speaking out! To be silent, to deal with that in private, is disturbing. If you’ll protect a rapist… who wouldn’t you protect?

This morning I’m asking for 3 things:

  1. Pray for Shaun, Rai, and his kids. Pray for the victims and their families. Many in church circles are denouncing Shaun for speaking out. And sadly other people have sent him death threats. Pray that God protects Shaun as he stands in the gap for children in his community. Pray that justice prevails, not in the court of public opinion, but in a court of law.
  2. Reflect on the types of things worth fighting for in your life. What are things that you, as a child of God, would cause you to stand up and fight for, putting your reputation on the line for, even to the point of receiving death threats as you expose light to darkness?
  3. Act, act, act. I believe there are countless stories like this hidden in the confines of the church today. Expose them. Today. There is a devil-inspired lie that “true believers” settle things without the courts involvement. I’ve even heard people say that it’s a sin to sue a church. That is a lie. Examine 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 yourself. Rape is not trivial. Breaking the law is not trivial. Extortion is not trivial. On and on. Examine the context and reason Paul wrote those words. But yet this untruth has lead to countless victims and the continued victimization by people originally called to represent Jesus. Expose them. Do not take refuge in the reality that God will judge them. It is your responsibility as a believer to bring light to dark places. Search your heart, discover what is worth fighting for, and act. Today.

*I’ll admit in sharing this story that I’m confused on some of the details. I don’t know how a person can rape children and settle that in court without criminal charges against the accused. I firmly believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty. If someone could help me understand Shaun’s statements that the person has admitted guilt and not received a criminal complaint, please enlighten me. Is this a statute of limitations thing?

Categories
haiti Social Action

What have you done for me lately?

A year ago the earth shook and the world changed.

Billions were given.

Tens of thousands have gone to help.

Yet not much has changed.

  • The poor suffered.
  • The rich got richer.
  • More people died needlessly.
  • The UN has effectively lied, spending money studying and asking questions while accomplishing little.
  • And America sleeps in their comfy beds tonight feeling like they did something because they texted a donation to the Red Cross.

We’re left now with more questions than answers.

  1. If the international aid organizations aren’t going to do something, who is?
  2. People are stealing aid given while government pockets are filled with bribes, who will prosecute perpetrators when the government is the worst offender?
  3. How can we help this country get back on its feet while at the same time lessening dependencies on the outside world?
  4. When will the colonial view on international missions be put away and replaced with working alongside of Haitians to build housing for people in tent cities, advocates standing for justice, and training of teachers, city planners, and tradespeople begin?
  5. Where is the army of Sean Penn-like camp managers?
  6. Who will hold accountable those who make empty promises?

The answer to all of these questions is you. The cameras will shine on Haiti today. And you will feel sorry for what is going on.

Don’t.

Our Haitian brothers and sisters don’t ask for your pity today.

But they are asking for you to help them in ways that answer the questions I’ve posed above.

Know that the media elite will leave tomorrow; having satisfied their ratings and your curiosity, they will board private jets tomorrow and go back to New York, while children still sleep on muddy cardboard beds.

1.5 million people are asking the question, “Who is helping us?

The answer is you.

Turn off the TV and do something.

Categories
haiti

Piggy Banks

Jeffrey and Joel were visiting with the people of a tent city in the town of Carrefour, Haiti when they heard periodic banging. Used to the sound of big diesel engines and definitely used to the sound of kids laughing and playing games, metal on metal banging was distinctive pang and piqued their curiosity.

Under a tree, away from the main tent area, they met Daniel. Daniel is a mason by trade. But right now there are way more masons than opportunities to do masonry so he began to improvise. With all of the aid flowing into the tent camp there was plenty of garbage generated. One thing that seemed like it was useful for something was all of the one gallon aluminum cans which brought foods like beans.

After some messing around and possibly scouting out what was selling in the city, Daniel started cutting open the cans and making flat sheets of aluminum. Then, using only a large square chunk of steel and a smaller, shorter chunk of steel, he began shaping the aluminum into little boxes and punching a hole in them.

Bam. Instant piggy bank made from recycled cans.

Next, he began selling them to street vendors to sell up the hill in Carrefour. He sold them at 3 for 25 gouds. (3 for about 75 cents in US dollars) Each one took him about 2 minutes to make. So, in theory, Daniel could earn about 75 cents per hour. Remember, the average Haitian family earns less than $1 per day.

Jeffrey and Daniel bought about 6 piggy banks. (They paid him a little more than he was asking.)

Later that night as our team debriefed the day Joel brought up this story. And as the conversation morphed our team decided that we wanted to buy as many piggy banks as Daniel could make. Maybe, if we could get enough, we could use them to raise money for something like the Sons of God Orphanage?

The next day we went back to the tent city and found Daniel under his tree, banging away. We told him our plan and he liked it.

We will buy as many banks as you can make by noon tomorrow.

He thought he could make about 50. We said, no matter how many he makes… we’ll buy them all.

The next day, we were all a little apprehensive and hopeful. We had a feeling he’d have the 50 piggy banks. But we joked that we’d also walk into the camp and see tons of little kids with band-aids on their fingers from making these things all night long!

Daniel looked like a smart businessman. Maybe he’d hired the whole neighborhood to turn garbage into cash? Wouldn’t that be hilarious? I’d hoped we had enough money.

When we found Daniel under his tree it was clear that he was exhausted. He hadn’t slept. The interpreter tried to nice it up by saying that he thought Daniel had a fever. But it was OK, he had worked all night and we had come to buy what he had. His hard work was a good sign that he cared for his family.

He had 44 piggy banks. We counted them. We examined them. We made a big deal over how cool they were and well they were constructed. And then we talked about price.

You could tell he was nervous about that part. I don’t speak Creole but I could read his body language. Were the Americans going to try to offer him a bad price? And what would he do if we did?

The same price came up… 3 for 25 gouds. We told him no. We told him that he had worked all night and that we had rushed him. We told him that we didn’t feel right about paying him so little. We asked him if he thought it was fair if we paid him 25 gouds each. (It took a couple rounds of interpreting to get what we were saying.) He looked kind of confused by our proposition. I doubt anyone had ever told him they should pay him MORE because he had worked hard.

So, we counted them up and paid him just over 1000 gouds. (About $25 US) We shook hands, gave him the money, and walked away.

I don’t know what justice looks like. I can define justice. I can talk about it. But I don’t have a clue what it actually looks like.

I honestly don’t know if that was justice in action or just some silly Americans buying souvenirs thing. I just don’t know because I live in a world where basic justices are a given. But I do know business. I know that  on that day, under that tree, that act of business felt like an act of justice.

I pray that more Daniel’s find more ways to recycle things. Turning garbage into money is good in any longitude or latitude.

Categories
haiti

An Orphan Cared For

I think a lot of people question our involvement in Haiti. I’ve heard it over and over again, “We have so many problems here in our country. Let’s take care of our problems first.

Yada. Yada. Yada. We can’t turn a blind eye to the world because our backyard isn’t perfect.

That rant aside. Stories like this are excellent reminders that outsiders come into Haiti with a different set of lenses. They see the forgotten and help call the church to act. Now if only outsiders would come to our churches from places like Haiti to point out the big planks in our eyes… that’d be something.

Great work, Katie. Keep it up!

Categories
haiti Social Action

Social Currency

If this were your house, what would you do?
If this were your house, what would you do?

“Why don’t they just fix it themselves?”

If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me about the people of Haiti I wouldn’t be $1700 short in my fundraising!

There are a few answers to that question. At least from my über limited perspective.

  1. Haiti is so poor that they just don’t have the infrastructure and resources to even conceive of a solution. It’s just too big and they have been too dependent on the outside world to help them to solve it themselves.
  2. Culture has put up some major barriers. There are laws and traditions to be obeyed which make seemingly easy problems to fix nearly impossible. For instance, you’d need a permit (which costs money) to haul away the rubble of a home you rent. (which you are still paying the rent for) You have to find the owner, (who might live in Haiti or the U.S., you’ve never met him but only paid his cousin) who has to provide the government (which fell down) with proof of ownership (which was destroyed when government buildings collapsed) before you can hire workers to remove the rubble. (which costs money, and the government hasn’t yet determined where to take all of the rubble)
  3. The poorest of the poor don’t have the social currency to not worry about breaking the law/culture and looking past a lack of resources for the sake of doing some good.

What is social currency?

I first thought of this often debated online phrase in the real world while in Haiti in February. Like a lot of relief workers I struggled with what I saw. It just didn’t reconcile with the world I know.

I’m not a sociologist. But this is how I think of social currency.

If my house partially collapsed, killing my family, what would I do? Obviously, I’d call 911 and 6 minutes later a miniature army of highly trained firefighters would show up. Then a news helicopter would fly overhead so that the entire metro area would know what had happened within the hour. In shock and not knowing what else to do, I’d get in an ambulance and go to the hospital. At some point soon after that my insurance agent would call me. I’d call some friends who would rally around me. Within about 48 hours I’d be planning funerals, talking to endless insurance people about life insurance and property insurance, while a group of friends would help me “get back on my feet.” In the meantime, I’d probably stay with some friends or relatives before settling into a long-term hotel that my insurance company would pay for (and going to a years counseling that my health insurance company would pay for) while they took care of hiring contractors to pull permits and level the house before rebuilding it.

That’s a lot of social currency. I’d call on all of those government and financial institutions without thinking about it because I’ve paid into those institutions! I’d call on friends to help because we have a perceived reciprocal society. Just the thought that “they’d do the same for me” would compel them to help.

How would that change if I were the poorest of the poor, living in a country with no infrastructure, and the entire city I lived in collapsed? Those with financial means would leave immediately. This would be the land-owners and business people. Those with no means (the homeless, the orphans, the widows) are just kind of frozen. They don’t know what to do because they don’t know the questions to ask nor the ramifications of what would happen if they “just fixed stuff.” Nor do they have the resources to fix stuff. Nor do they have the energy or equipment to fix stuff.

I remember Seth Barnes asking people what they were going to do and the dialogue always went like this:

What are you going to do about your home?

– I don’t know. I’m waiting for the government to help me.

Has the government ever helped you in the past?

– [laughter] Of course not.

The poorest of the poor are, unfortunately, dependent on help. The real question for them seems to be… what will accepting help cost them? Remember that Haiti is a place of both spiritual and real oppression. Accepting help may land them into a debt that costs a lifetime to repay. This is a place where children are trafficked and labor is unregulated. This is a place where, on a good day, the police are uncaring about your plight. But on a bad day, the police are just as dangerous as the oppressors. They may even be the oppressors in some neighborhoods.

What would you do? You’d laugh at those silly barriers in full knowledge that the landlord wouldn’t care that you cleared the property. At the very least you’d knock down your condemned home and pile up the rubble to be hauled away. Chances are pretty good that you’d also try to organize your neighbors into a group of workers who would go around clearing rubble for other people. Say, old women. That’s the power of social currency. You aren’t frozen. When everyone is stuck, you’d naturally rise up and take action.

This is why you should consider a relief trip to Haiti

If you are a reader of this blog I want to encourage you to find an agency of relief and pray about going to Haiti in the next 12 months. You have resources. You are ignorant of culture barriers. And you have social currency to spare.