Tag Archives: Jesus

A Lesson in Turning the Other Cheek

Miguel's view

Miguel’s view

Lessons in being a disciple of Christ can continue throughout our lives. That’s a good thing, I’m sure, but some days it seems that the more I learn, the more I see how far I fall short.

Yesterday I learned a good lesson from my friend Miguel. (And to protect his privacy, I’m not using his real name here.)

Miguel showed me something of what it can mean to turn the other cheek.

The first time I met him, he lived in a nice home in the hills above the city—a place he had built as a refuge for his family. It was a lovely place. I enjoyed a few days of peace with them there. How fortunate they were, I felt, to have such a place.

Now he and his wife, well into their “golden” years, live in other circumstances. Their home was taken from them cruelly by someone who coveted—a former business associate Miguel had trusted. A little deception in the office, a little forgery, and my friend and his family found themselves being evicted from their nice home.

He speaks about it matter-of-factly now. There was nothing he could do.

I don’t know if he protested, or if he fought. I would have. But he seems to be at peace with it now.

I’m sure I would still be whining, “But he can’t get away with that! It’s wrong! If people can get away with cheating others like that, then what protection do the law and society offer?”

Some people would be asking “Why?” after something like this happened to them. I have learned that “Why?” is usually useless after the fact—a waste of time. The situation simply must be dealt with, and worrying about the why is unproductive.

But I am not good at letting go when injustice is involved. How can we let someone get away with cheating another innocent person? If society tolerates that, are we not also guilty? Are we not guilty of letting the thief abuse one of Heavenly Father’s children who did not deserve it?

But now we are skirting the dangerous swamp of deciding who “deserves” evil and who does not.

My friend Miguel is wiser than I. He seemingly does not spend any time occupying his mind with past hurts. The man who cheated him may need to carry that baggage into eternity, but Miguel knows that he does not.

He still has the most important things in his life—a strong family, a woman of great spiritual strength beside him, his faith that God loves him. He still looks outward. Getting burned did not make him fearful of extending himself to others. He still serves.

Would I be able to do that? I’m not sure. And this worries me a bit, because that is exactly where the road of discipleship leads.

In the hills above Guatemala City.

In the hills above Guatemala City.

 

Heaven to Hell in 72 Hours

Oakland mall Dc1912

Oakland Mall

We spent Wednesday evening at the nicest mall we’ve seen anywhere in the world. There are touches of luxury everywhere, beginning with the red or green lights above the underground parking spaces to show empty stalls.

Name a brand of expensive wristwatch or sportswear and you can probably find it here. Models in off-the- shoulder mini-dresses distribute samples of expensive perfumes or gourmet chocolate. People who are used to shopping at Saks 5th Avenue or on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills could feel at home in this place. It is a palace of conspicuous consumption.

In the movie theater, there are plush recliner seats similar to those in first class on an airliner. The popcorn is cheaper than in theaters at home—but we order from our seats, and it is delivered by a dark-suited waiter.

If your life were dedicated to acquiring things or treating yourself to pleasant experiences, it would be easy to think that heaven ought to be like this.

In contrast, on Saturday, Sister S. and I had the privilege of joining a group of evangelical Christians as they distributed clothing, blankets, children’s toys, and food to people who live in the Guatemala City landfill, a ravine below the city cemetery.

Guat landfill_445b

Guatemala City landfill

Each day these people dig through heaps of garbage to eke out their subsistence by salvaging repairable or recyclable items from the trash. The largest flock of buzzards I have ever seen circles overhead like seagulls over a hoard of picnickers at the beach. The scene reminds me of one of Dante’s circles of hell—but it is all too real, all too concrete. No words or photos can capture the unrelenting stench of decay or the feel of grit in your teeth from the fine dust that swirls in the winds of this ravine.

Some 1,500 people lined up to receive gifts and a light lunch of a roll, a Guatemalan tamale wrapped in a banana leaf, and a glass of punch.

The visitors who brought the gifts were mostly Guatemalans, but they also included a visiting family from Iowa and a handful of LDS senior missionaries from all over the United States, with visiting family members in tow. Gifts were donated by both businesses and individuals; several hundred of the blankets were provided by LDS missionaries.

Guat landfill_460bThe group brought along a generator, portable sound system, and keyboard. A talented musician spent the hours in the landfill singing Christian pop music, trying to spread a bit of the word about Jesus. At the edge of the crowd, a man in tattered clothing and what might have been dreadlocks (or maybe only matted hair) danced along.

My wife and I went home to enjoy long showers—and felt a little guilty just for having the privilege.

We have to admire people so dedicated to helping the least fortunate among us. Members of the Guatemalan group sponsoring the activity, la Asociación del Cinco, have pledged to donate five percent of their income to helping the poor.

But what is the best way for us to help people so poor?

Discussions about the problem too often are polarized. On one side are those who say, “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. Let them do the same. That way they’ll appreciate what they get.” Others may answer, “These people are so far down they’ll never get out of their hole, and society owes it to them to help. We’ve got to take from those who have in order to give to those who have not.”

What’s the right answer? I don’t know. But surely there has to be some viable middle ground.

Those who work most closely with people at this level of poverty say the answer isn’t simply to give them money. It’s spent too fast, with no lasting result.

Education may well be the answer—in the long run. There’s a public school perched on the edge of the ravine that serves the children of the area. By law children and teens are no longer allowed to work in the landfill with their parents; they should be in school. La Asociación del Cinco also has a school to help some of the children eight to 12 years old.

Human nature being what it is, there are undoubtedly some at the dump who would not take advantage of an offer of help if it required long-term commitment. But could there not be some system worked out to help those willing to train for viable jobs? Perhaps instead of paying back the aid they receive, they could pay it forward, helping finance retraining for others. It seems like an idea worth a try. I for one would support it.

In the meantime, those who are sacrificing every day to help people trapped in poverty—people condemned to live in the dump—have all my respect.

Guat landfill_1681b

 
Food for the hungry.