Friday, April 13, 2007

Perspective

Last night I had the distinct pleasure of babysitting.

Not just any kids. Two delightful children whose parents are here in Texas on student visas from the Republic of Cameroon. Their parents, Eric and Elizabeth, attend our church. She is getting a degree in child development; he is getting his PhD in engineering at a university not far from our home.

Elizabeth arrived first in an older-model car, dressed simply and unassumingly. Neither she nor her husband is allowed to work here, but I didn't hear one word of complaint about their living situation. She matter-of-factly she explained how her husband goes to school during the day, and then she hands the children off to him so she can go at night. She is required to take twelve college hours because of her student status, but her heart is at home. As she unpacked carefully homemade baby food for the eleven-month-old, she said, "I believe my first ministry is to these children God has given me." Although I only watched two of their children, all three of the children's long, distinct names end in their dialect's word for "God." I babysat "God's Favor" and "God's Work."

Even though they are no doubt part of the elite of their country by virtue of their education, having this family in my home made me look at things in a new light. Perhaps "jerked me into looking" would be a better choice of words.

Cameroon, while stable compared to other African countries, is still light years away from our comfortable American lifestyle. Statistics report that 30% of Cameroon's workforce is unemployed, and 48% of the population (over 40% of which is under the age of 14) is under the poverty line. Although 70% of the workforce is in agriculture, only 5% of farming is done with modern methods. Most Cameroonians only attend primary school.

While our small guests played in my carpeted, air-conditioned home, I suddenly looked at the pile of shoes on my stairway with a stab of embarrassment. Same for the overflowing laundry pile, the toy pile, and the book pile. I didn't have the courage to look through our pile of children's videos or even to turn on our oversized TV.

Our two-year-old Cameroonian friend giddily requested a simple bowl of oatmeal for her dinner. As I fixed it for her (her eyes lit up when I offered sugar), my mind inventoried the excesses of our culture, many of which are easily found within the four walls of my own home. I have been negligent to be thankful for God's Work and God's Favor.

I thought about the opportunities I take for granted, the future I assume will be available to my children, and how little effort it will take, comparatively speaking, to make it a reality. Not the least of which is an education at a world-class university just a stone's throw from my landscaped back yard.

20 comments:

Elizabeth at A Biblical Home said...

It's so easy to forget how our standard of living differs from much of the world. This post was a wonderful reminder to be satisfied with less and be grateful for what we have!

Jamie said...

Thanks for the great post. I too had these thoughts on my return from a trip to Haiti. Life isn't so bad after you've witnessed other places. I am constantly asking God to impress on my heart again the life of a simplistic, happy, joyful woman.

Melissa said...

I know the Lord directed me here tonight. I was just grousing about how much laundry has piled up this week!

Thanks for giving me some much-needed perspective.

Annie said...

I have friends who just got back from a short term missions trip to Peru and they were able to bring their children. They were all able to see how wasteful our lives are here and how others live happily with much less than us.

LB said...

Awesome- this was just awesome. I was incredibly blessed to go to Cameroon this past summer. I understand much of what you experienced- it makes you think about how much we take for granted every single day.
Thanks for posting this! It's something people need to know.

Dennis Smith said...

Katherine - wow, thoughtful post. It caused me to think about how much we really have and how often we take it for granted.

Thanks for reminding us,

Dennis

emily said...

Oh, Katherine, you always make me think and pray in such good ways :-)

hope you're having the most wonderful week!!!

marian said...

Thanks for the post. I get a tiny bit of perspective daily as I look into the eyes of my Ethiopian daughter. Even so, I am so ashamed of the grumbling I too often catch myself in.
Sometimes glimpses of other lives put things into perspective by comparison; sometimes they put me into a surreal, sorrowful numbness-- sometimes there just is no comparison. Like the time I watched the documentary, "Surviving Hunger," in which a man goes to live in an Ethiopian village of people struggling to work hard and live on a diet consisting largely of "wild cabbage" (weeds), in which the sounds of children crying from hunger echo through the village at night, in which young men walk a day to find work for one day's wage just to buy a plate of rice and savor every bite ... and then I turned off the T.V., exiting that world and, seconds later, walked into my fully stocked American kitchen. The feeling was surreal. There was. no. comparison. No bridge over which to relate and even begin to compare.

org junkie said...

Oh Katherine, how awesome of you to share this experience with us. It is so true and I pray that stories such as yours will continue to help remind me how well off I really am and to never take it for granted.

Laura

MicheleinNZ said...

I was at Kmart today with my mom, who is visiting for a few weeks. Needed to get some clothes for the kids for the upcoming winter weather. As I browsed the racks I heard God say it was time for me to leave because I didn't need to buy anything. And indeed I don't. I looked at Mom and said "We'll just make do with what we have." The kids don't need new clothes, hand me downs and borrowed clothes are okay. I'm so glad that I listened to God's voice today. In light of your post, I have so much in comparison with most of the world. The kids will be warm and dry and will never know that their clothes have been worn by others. The girls are just happy if it's pink! :)

Amy said...

Cameroon holds a special place in my heart. My cousin met his wife in the Peace Corps there, we have missionary friends living there, my brother has been there on short-term missions and we've sent a team from my church there on short-term missions.

They all have come back saying similar things to your post.

Upon returning home some of the students started taking cold showers once or twice a week to remind them of what they have and what others don't.

Beck said...

This post was a blessing to me - thank you.

Megan said...

Gorgeous perspective. Thank you for sharing with us.

Sarah said...

Isn't it amazing how easy it is to complain and feel sorry for ourselves until we are faced with how great we really have it. It's humbling and wonderful and I only pray for more of those moments to create in me an attitude of gratitude.
Sarah

Code Yellow Mom said...

I remember my uncle telling us about a family he visited at Christmas while he was serving a mission. The children rushed ecstatically to greet him at the door to show him the coloring books they had gotten for Christmas. He looked at the coloring and asked one of the children if he had done the coloring. The little boy said, "No...the book came that way!" With a big grin on his face.

Nothing like a little perspective.

This is a marvelous post.

Alan and Jen said...

Thank you. I needed this reminder today.

Andrea said...

Perspective is always good. I'm glad you got it and shared it with us so humbly. I feel the same way sometimes looking at my house and "things".

Munchkin Land said...

I have those moments too; where I'm given a reality check as to how much "stuff" we have and how much I take for granted! =) Thanks for the reminder...

Elise said...

Oh, I believe God delights in bringing these things to our attention in this manner.
For it lays us flat on our faces in the presence of our excess. I know that is what your story did to me.
Still pondering...

Robin said...

Your post came at a perfect time. I am in the middle of "spring decluttering." Thanks for the perspective and reminder - now I'm getting back to work!