The Third World

I have so struggled with where to begin...

I think that in order for us to appreciate ANY of this, we must understand that the Third World exists.  All the time.  Right now.

I think that every American should visit a third world country at least once in their lifetime, if possible.  You may have to seek out opportunities instead of just letting life happen to you.  You may have to raise a lot of money.  You may have to work really hard, and do things that make you uncomfortable, but I promise it will be one of the best experiences of your life.  Eye-opening, convicting, emotional, life-changing.  You are NOT too old.  (And if you have parents that trust you, you are not too young.)

I can post this in good conscience because I've seen this kind of poverty twice - and it has rocked my world, twice.

Here is the first quote from Revolution in World Missions, which is actually a quote from economist, Robert Heilbroner, as published in his book, The Great Ascent: The Struggle for Economic Development in Our Time.

He is describing the "luxuries" (read: everyday, commonplace conveniences) the typical American family would have to surrender if they lived among the 1 BILLION hungry people in the Two-Thirds World:

"We begin by invading the house of our imaginary American family to strip it of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, television sets, lamps.  We will leave the family with a few old blankets, a kitchen table, a wooden chair.  Along with the bureaus go the clothes.  Each member of the family may keep in his wardrobe his oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse.  We will permit a pair of shoes for the head of the family, but none for the wife or children.

"We move to the kitchen.  The appliances have already been taken out, so we turn to the cupboards...the box of matches may stay, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt.  A few moldy potatoes, already in the garbage can, must be rescued, for they will provide much of tonight's meal.  We will leave a handful of onions and a dish of dried beans.  All the rest we take away: the meat, the fresh vegetables, the canned goods, the crackers, the candy.

Again, I'm reminded: reality.  Right now.  He continues,

"Now we have stripped the house: the bathroom has been dismantled, the running water shut off, the electric wires taken out.  Next we take away the house.  The family can move to the tool shed...Communications must go next.  No more newspapers, magazines, books - not that they are missed, since we must take away our family's literacy as well.  Instead, in our shantytown we will allow one radio...

"Now government services must go next.  No more postmen, no more firemen.  There is a school, but it is three miles away and consists of two classrooms...There are, of course, no hospitals or doctors nearby.  The nearest clinic is ten miles away and is tended by a midwife.  I can be reached by bicycle, provided the family has a bicycle, which is unlikely...

Oh the things we think we're "entitled to."

"Finally, money.  We will allow our family a cash hoard of five dollars.  This will prevent our breadwinner from experience the tragedy of an Iranian peasant who went blind because he could not raise the $3.94 which he mistakenly though he needed to receive admission to a hospital where he could have been cured."

At this point, K.P. Yohannan writes (and this statement affected me more than the preceding paragraphs),

"This is an accurate description o the lifestyle and world from which I came.  From the moment I touched foot on American soil, I walked around in an unbelieving daze. How can to so different economies coexist simultaneously on the earth?"

An accurate description.

One of the most significant things RiWM did for me was to created a moment-by-moment awareness of the Third World.  That the hunger, illness, and danger does not cease to exist two months after I return home.  (Which is about how long it takes for me not to think about it constantly.)

I cannot imagine how difficult this is to grasp for someone who has never seen it firsthand.  I can say in earnest that now, I think about the Third World when I do my laundry - every time.  When I run my clean water - into my washing machine - that's plugged into my wall - in my home - and load in multiple loads of clothing.

I think about the Third World when I drive - every time. When I ran errands with Madeline yesterday, when I bought us lunch at the drive-thru at a fast food place.  When I bought Dan's birthday presents.

We can't appreciate the "extravagance" of the American lifestyle that K.P. goes on to address if we have nothing with which to compare it.  So this is the beginning.

Here is a list of Third World countries, classified in 5 ways:

  • Third World Countries in Terms of Political Rights and Civil Liberties
  • Third World Countries in Terms of their Gross National Income (GNI)
  • Third World Countries in Terms of their Human Development
  • Third World Countries in Terms of Poverty
  • Third World Countries in Terms of Press Freedom

Let's reckon with reality. Ignorance is one thing, indifference is another. Don't be afraid to get informed.

If you want a preview of what's to come, here is how K.P. Yohannan continues this passage in his book,

"...How can two so different economies coexist simultaneously on the earth?  Everything was so overpowering and confusing to me at first.  Not only did I have to learn the simplest procedures - like using the pay telephones and making change - but as a sensitive Christian, I found myself constantly making spiritual evaluations of everything I saw.

"As the days passed into weeks, I began with alarm to understand how misplaced are the spiritual values of most Western believers.  Sad to say, it appeared to me that for the most part they had absorbed the same humanistic and materialistic values that dominated the secular culture...I had to warn God's people that He was not going to lavish this abundance on them forever.  But the message was still not formed in my heart, and it would be many years before I would feel the anointing and courage to speak out against such sin."

The first time I read this, I felt pretty uncomfortable, but I'm glad.  Because as someone wise once told me, often it takes someone waaaay down at "point M" pulling and pushing and prodding to get us to move our feet from point A to point B.  And to be honest the more I read, pray, and evaluate, I'm not sure we all shouldn't hop on down to point M together.  It's not comfortable; it's extreme, but it's become virtually impossible for me to feel "okay" about living the way I've been living.  Big changes in store for the Conner household.   Stay tuned.