This morning I read an article titled “7 Worst International Aid Ideas” (http://matadornetwork.com/change/7-worst-international-aid-ideas/). I was catching up on the blog of a friend who lives and works in Uganda (http://grassyroadwanderingfeet.tumblr.com/), and she had it linked. The title hooked me.
Though I don’t wholeheartedly agree with all the author says, it’s a worthwhile read, and it reminded me of a book my husband read recently, When Helping Hurts (which has a Christian take on this issue).
Just after reading the article, I opened my computer journal and scrolled down to the bottom of it to begin writing. My cursor landed instead on something I wrote last October about creating family with our two international students (see below). For me, somehow, it connects with my swirling, always-developing thoughts about aid and service. I have no expertise on international aid, but I’ve learned from experience that if giving ever feels easy, if it doesn’t touch and even skewer my heart some, then it’s probably been done wrong. It has probably done some hurt—if not to the receiver, then to the giver.
Take our family—with four children ranging in age from 5 to 11—and add two international girls, ages 15 and 17. Did I ever think it would be easy? No, not even once; in fact, at a host family meeting early this fall when they told us the that the “honeymoon phase” would last between 1-3 weeks, I thought, “I’m pretty sure I skipped that phase.”
But at that time I was thinking mostly of the extra work it would cause for me: more food (and kinds of food) to shop for, more mouths to feed, more schedules to keep track of, more, more, more. Okay, yes, I also knew from experience that if you don’t bond with people, it can make living with them in your house really awkward, but I was focused on the added load.
I didn’t really expect the emotional upheaval. It’s not easy helping two girls who are used to quiet, one- or two-child homes adjust to having three, loud, much younger “siblings.” It’s not easy explaining to those younger children that just because someone is afraid of dogs doesn’t mean that she hates our well-loved Chai. It’s not easy negotiating reconciliation between people whose definitions of “forgiveness” are literally worlds apart.
And it’s really easy to slip into withdrawal. We’ll just get by; we’ll co-exist; we’ll let them hang out in their room—a lot.
But then God intervenes. We hear more of their stories. Our hearts stretch. Okay, that’s enough, we think, but then God does it again. We care more; we want more; we think, “Maybe we can actually feel like a unit, a group that gets along.” Then God brings more tension, more involvement, more stretching of the hearts—a better way to put it would be that He’s actually adding new material. Suddenly we find ourselves saying, “We want you to feel like you are a real part of us. We want you to learn that we can get mad at each other, we can have conflict, we can mess up. It’s all right. We talk about these things; we share our frustrations; we ask for God’s help with the supernatural task of forgiveness and we move on. That’s what families do.”
Even as I write this, I gasp at the audacity of this: that a ragtag group of people could learn to act like a real family. But isn’t that what God calls His ragtag group of followers—drawn from every nation, every tribe, every socioeconomic group, and every level of “ability”? He calls us a family.
And I believe He is in the business of doing it on the very small level as well.
“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
6 God sets the lonely in families,[c]
he leads out the prisoners with singing;” Psalm