Sunday, September 2, 2012

Unnecessary Decadence

This Christmas it will be two years since I first set foot on Ukrainian soil. I'll never forget the feeling- it was a cold, windy, snowy night in the wee hours of the morning. For all I knew, I could have been in Siberia.

Hardly a day goes by where my Ukrainian adventure doesn't come up in conversation or thought. It was such a changing experience on so many levels. I would not be the person I am today were it not for that 10 days.

Despite all of the amazing things that happened in and around me in those 10 days however, I wish I personally had done more. When I went over to Ukraine, I was afraid of orphan care. Of missionary work.  I was afraid to care, to witness hurt, or, even worse, to try and help only to fail. It took 5 little orphans in a tiny room in an orphanage hidden in a backwoods forest town to show me otherwise. To show me that that love, that passion, did take care. It did hurt. I would fail to accomplish everything I hoped for sometimes. But it was worth it. So worth it.

The unfortunate circumstance of that meeting was that it occurred on my last day at the orphanage. I met them, snapped my infamous picture of Sonya and that was it. Paka Paka orphanage. Back to America with my new little sister and my Dad I went.

Ever since then I've hungered for more of the joy I felt in those few short moments in Julia's groupa room. I have been waiting and continue to wait patiently for God's call, His timing, His offering of an opportunity to go somewhere new to see new places, meet new people, and show the love of Christ to a people and place that might never have experienced it before. In the meantime, I have gotten to love on plenty of orphans-no-more here in the US. I have three adopted siblings who need just as much love and attention. I talk to people regularly about orphan and missionary work. For a long time, though, there was a difference I couldn't identify between all of the efforts I've made here in the states and my trip across the ocean.

As I thought about it, I realized it was that different environment. Ukraine is a very different place to live in than the US is, that's for sure. A different culture, a different kind of people, a different set of foods, languages, and customs.

My time in Ukraine taught me to take everything as a blessing. You had an apartment that had a working stove, shower, laundry machine, DVD player and two bedrooms? You were lucky! A run to McDonald's or finding a food similar to something back in America at the grocery store? Culinary miracles!

Part of what formed that perception was the way I saw life in the orphanage and the surrounding towns. Within a 30-45 minute drive from where we were staying to the orphanage, you'd see things deteriorate from well-off city dwellings to slums. Amongst those slums, a select group of wealthy people had built sprawling compounds in tiny little backwoods towns. You saw that even if some things about your dwellings weren't perfect or up to your expectations, you still didn't have anything to complain about. When I thought about my American standards of living, I felt flat-out sick. I had lived in such privileged surroundings all of my life without even realizing it.

I'll never forget reading the chapters in The Hunger Games when Katniss, a girl from a poor mountain town, first experiences the lush metropolis known as The Capitol, the center of the post-apocalyptic country where she lives. She sees people eating foods her neighbors couldn't dream of affording. She sees people dressing in extravagant clothes and living in dwellings only the highest government officials in her home town could think of. All she can think of is how ridiculously extravagant life in the Capitol is. How over-the-top perfect people have tried to make life there appear.

It all appears to be nothing more than unnecessary decadence.

Despite having never left the US since my trip to Ukraine, those same feelings Katniss experienced have never left me as I think about Ukraine (or any third-world country) compared to America. Every time I go to the store and shop for clothes, every time I go to a McDonald's and get myself a big chicken sandwich and a caramel mocha shake, every time I look at photography gear that costs hundreds upon thousands of dollars, a little voice in the back of my head is nagging at me: Is this all necessary or right when there are people in Africa using flattened water bottles with strings for sandals and orphans lying for days in cribs wasting away? To be sure, when God has put us in a time and place to enjoy a level of earthly happiness or stability there is nothing wrong with thankfully enjoying it so long as we are seeking Him and His will through everything. But are there not times when we flounder in unnecessary decadence? Are there not times when we forget that God through Jesus and the authors of Sacred Scripture told us to care for the poor?  Do we not sometimes forget that all too easily? In stead of getting a Starbucks coffee in the morning, a Coca-Cola for lunch and another flavored beverage for dinner, I could drink water for a week and give that money I would have spent to an organization that's providing clean water wells in Africa. Trust me, I know from personal experience, the tiny amount of money you think you spend on your favorite food/drink/magazine or tv subscription/etc. will turn into a pretty substantial amount that can make a difference in someone's life fast.

Brothers and sisters, I challenge us all to live a life as devoid of unnecessary decadence as possible. While we are undoubtedly entitled to enjoy the life and the gifts God has showered down on us all, I challenge us to enjoy those gifts in consideration of those less fortunate than us and in awareness of Jesus' call to defend orphans and widows. If we all, as the Body of Christ and the Human Race as a whole, banded together and lifted each other up, rising past the allure of leading the most comfortable lives we can, I daresay the world would be a better place, a more love-filled place.

"Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'" Matthew 19:21.