November 2011


Today Jake & I visited a new church in the area. I was ok with it until the pastor went off on a tangent about missions. He said he did not believe in “short-term mission trips” here and there, scattered, but instead believes a church should adopt an area and go back, year after year, to build relationships with the people and pastors and educators and so forth. I fully support that. He said the church hadn’t picked an area yet, but he suspected it would be a certain South American country, because there is a church of that nationality that meets on their campus, and that would be a fantastic resource for them: these people would know their way around, would have connections, and could teach them the language. I started to get concerned, because if a church body hasn’t agreed on something like this a pastor doesn’t have any business announcing his personal opinion from the pulpit. That’s cause for “discipline” in an elder-led church. But then he said, very passionately, “And we’re not gonna go to the Southlake [wealthy] area! We’re gonna go to the poorest part, to some hellhole where people need the gospel…” and I checked out. Because I was PISSED. OFF.

Somehow American Christians have bought into this idea that working among the poor is somehow more noble, more spiritual, than working among the middle class, or the wealthy. Maybe it’s the modern Protestant version of penance, I don’t know. Or maybe we just flipped what the church was doing in James, and are now showing preference to the poor – which is still sin. But there’s this idea that poor people need Jesus more than rich ones, and so those who give up everything to go live in an inner city – or, even more impressively, a slum – are doing more for God’s kingdom than my friends who are struggling to make ends meet in the suburbs. Where, I would point out, God has clearly placed them, at least for now. This theme of “go join the poor” is popular at their church too, and every time someone says something to the effect of “If you’re not living in the ghetto you’re not in God’s will” they’re like, “BUT WHAT IF GOD CALLS YOU TO THE SUBURBS?” What will happen there when the salt and light flees for a more hip locale?

I don’t think it’s bad to go to a poverty-stricken area, either for repeated short-term trips or for a lifetime – but if you are doing it because you think that somehow the souls of the poor matter more to Jesus than the souls of the rich, then I would strongly suggest you reconsider because it looks suspiciously like you are trying to earn greater favor with God, to rack up more brownie points by doing something “difficult,” or because you get more points for a poor person’s salvation. And I also think that picking a place for your church to partner with based solely on its level of poverty looks suspiciously like poverty tourism.

While we’re on the subject of things being “difficult,” I submit that a “hellhole,” as this pastor so eloquently put it, may in fact be an easier mission field than one where people do not have such visible, pressing needs. When you are locked in a daily struggle for food – and I mean ANY food, not just getting a store to triple your coupon – someone coming along and telling you that the Almighty God cares about you and can provide for your needs, that sounds really appealing. (And on a side note: trusting God to provide one’s physical needs does not, in fact, constitute salvation. I am merely saying when life is physically difficult, you are acutely aware that you need all the help you can get.) But when someone is perfectly able to meet their own needs, thankyouverymuch, you are faced with the problem of convincing them of their spiritual poverty. When someone literally lives in a garbage dump, I would assume they have a better framework for understanding “This is how you are on the inside, without Jesus” than the guy who has a flatscreen and a car that gives him directions and a phone that can tell him what clothes to wear based on the weather forecast. How do you explain spiritual destitution to someone with a thousand channels in their cable package and some horrifyingly expensive reds in their custom wine rack?

(Note: I am by no means demeaning mission work in impoverished areas. I am trying to illustrate that different types of mission efforts are difficult in different ways. Working among the poor might be physically difficult but spiritually rewarding, while working among the more wealthy might be physically easy but spiritually difficult. Jesus Himself said, after meeting with the rich young man, that it is particularly difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. But He also loved the young man, and He also said that it IS possible – even for the wealthy – to enter God’s kingdom.)

Yes, people who live in a hellhole need the gospel. But so do people who live in expensive apartments. And so do people who have 74 acres in the country, and so do members of the royal family, and so do single moms, and so do your next door neighbors…it’s everyone. We will all be equally empty-handed when we stand before God. All people need the gospel, and their income doesn’t change the value of their souls.

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Just before we left France, I ran across The Lacuna in the English bookstore in Aix. I was excited to find it because The Bean Trees is one of my favorite novels and I had been wanting to read more of Barbara Kingsolver. I bought it to read on the plane on the way back but overestimated the amount of reading time I would have on our long travel day, what with having an infant and all. Because of all the moving and stuff I have done over the past year, I never made much progress in it until recently. I finally settled into it and didn’t even bother to start over, just picked up where I had an envelope shoved in, and was completely engrossed. Kingsolver just has a way with words that is truly artistic and I thoroughly enjoy reading her.

I will say that she does deal with political issues in her works, which normally I find very annoying. If I want to be preached at I go to church. (The Temperance Brennan novels by Kathy Reichs, for example, always deal with some “issue” and I always skip the part at the end where she summarizes the issue and does the preachy thing.) Somehow, though, Kingsolver does it subtly and it’s not offensive at all (to me, anyway) and really makes you think about whatever it is the characters are dealing with. Anyway if you find politics and literature a truly abhorrent mixture then I guess stay away.

But I thought it was fantastic and mesmerizing.

After recently admitting that I abhor raw potatoes in my kitchen, a situation presented itself for me to confront this fear. As mentioned once, a long time ago, I crave chicken pot pie in the autumn the way birds crave to fly south. And after having the perfect frozen vegetable blend in France, I was unhappy with the selections here. (Not to mention – the quality of frozen vegetables from Picard shames all others. I will never be satisfied with frozen American vegetables again.) Which meant I had to use fresh, which meant I had to purchase – and use – potatoes. REAL potatoes.

I selected Yukon Gold for this pot pie, although I think red ones would work nicely too. I used the same vegetables as the frozen blend I found in France, except this time I kept the onions out and sautéed them like the original recipe. (I actually almost carmelized them, as I was distracted by a crust problem, so the flavor was really nice.) I still didn’t get enough pepper in – it’s really hard to measure from a grinder! – but the overall result was pretty delicious.

But the point is, I have now used real live potatoes and lived to tell about it. I have a few left, though, so I am quite anxious to use them ASAP.