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I need to admit something: Sometimes I intentionally look away from photos of children living in poverty. Not the really sad ones – I mean photos of adorable kids with big eyes and bright smiles. And it’s not that I don’t like kids. I love them, actually. I’m that crazy lady who inevitably asks to hold someone’s baby, whether I’m in my parents’ church or a church in a Congolese village, and I’ve been that way since I was about four years old myself (Did you just get a mental image of toddler me carrying a baby half my size?).

Guilt is one reason I look away. If you’ve had the privilege of participating in some kind of mission trip, you probably know the simple joy of playing with cheerful kids who seem to come running from every direction. Across language barriers, we laugh and take pictures and give piggy back rides. We hold hands and give hugs and swear to ourselves that we’ll never forget their names. But honestly…I’ve forgotten most of their names. Distance and time have eroded those details in my brain, and I feel a twinge of guilt when I look at cute photos.

Pessimism is another reason. Despite all the wonderful things that are happening as God’s Church moves in the world, I know that at least some of these kids will still be living in the same slums years later, living out the same cycle of hopelessness their parents walked.

And finally, I look away out of fear that those cute kids will make me lose focus. Continue Reading…

I think I was 11 the first time my family went on a mission trip. We went deep into the hills of Appalachia: to parts of this country that it’s hard to believe exist. I tagged along with a group that included professional contractors and talented electricians and plumbers, helping out where I could to work alongside a family in making significant repairs to their home. They lived in a pop-up camper with several additions made with great necessity but limited skill. Sewage flowed directly underneath their home, and the family’s living conditions were shocking to a kid who thought most people lived a lot like she did.

One of my clearest memories from this trip is of our group facilitator telling us matter-of -factly before we arrived that this family had a swimming pool. To brace us for the dissonance, he explained that the family lived on extremely limited income and hadn’t been able to give their children much, but this pool was something they had saved to afford. We might have seen it as an odd or even irresponsible use of limited funds, but psychologically, this pool—and being able to afford it—meant a lot to the family. The facilitator didn’t phrase it this way, but I think his underlying message was, “Try not to judge what you can’t understand.” Continue Reading…