Having just returned from a mission trip to Central America, I realize now more than ever that Americans are the sole occupants of a large and shiny social bubble. If you’ll pardon the generalization, I’d say our concerns can sometimes be pretty narrow, limited to ourselves and more significantly our group, i.e. Americans.
We buy glossy electronics for our children and friends. We fret that our upper and middle classes may have money unduly taxed away from them. We relegate to the back of our minds children and families around the world who struggle to survive and sometimes fail to.
A quick disclaimer—I’m not writing this blog entry to harp on material inequality. I’m certainly not going to say that a gigantic transfer of economic resources from rich countries to poor countries needs to happen, because if orchestrated blindly, with little or no cross-cultural interaction, such a transfer can never bring justice. Hopefully, we don’t expect money to solve problems like HIV/AIDS. No, my particular objection is to something much more terrible than global inequality, something that indeed fuels it.
My objection is to our suffocation of global neighborship, our shrunken definition of family. I object to our selective indifference. I object when, for example, the voices of countries such as Guatemala and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are drowned out in global affairs. I object when children live through their favorite holidays without any gifts because no one with resources thought about those children. The unimpressive images that float into our heads when we visualize global poverty and disease are faceless, dark, far away, not real. Oftentimes we convince ourselves subconsciously that the world’s poor are ‘over there.’ They are outside. They are Other.
This tendency is human nature. It’s nothing to beat ourselves up about. But it is definitely something for us to realize and, better yet, to transcend. Because on a deeper level, we know that citizens of other countries are not beyond our concern. We know that they are in fact family, our brothers and sisters. We know that we are their Keepers, as they are ours.
Service is recognizing who is family. To serve someone, they must be real to us. We must place them in the same category that we place ourselves, the category worthy of our care and our attention. Objectively, that category is all-inclusive.
Therefore, I say Go. Get out, see the world and its people, and get to know them. Serve them, be there for them, and let them do the same for you. And then come back home, with something in your heart that feels a lot like selflessness, like freedom, like justice. Go.
The AFCA regularly sends people to Africa to interact with and improve the lives of children with AIDS and their biological(!) families. We would love for you to come and serve with us. Maybe, however, this is a commitment that you just can’t make. That’s perfectly understandable; there are a myriad of other ways for you to help your gigantic extended family out, and the AFCA is one of many pathways for your help. Whether you choose us or not, please serve as you are able. The rest of our family needs us. For more information on how to serve through the AFCA, visit our main website.