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Reflections

I called this section "reflections" for lack of a better term. Later on it will be filled with a variety of different topical entries.

What is Happening in my Country?November 7, 2008

The Sharing ChurchJune 1, 2008

PovertyNovember 15, 2007

All of us know in the back of our minds that there is much inequality in the world. We know that it exists in the United States, and we can observe statistics on nominal per capita GDP in each country according to which the average American has 36 times what the average Honduran has, and 249 times what the average Ethiopian has (source) . That sort of statistic may describe the relative monetary power a country has, but it isn't enough to describe life in that country. I came to Honduras in part to experience the way of life of people who live with resources typical for much of the world.

It is natural I suppose to think about the subject of poverty while living in a poor country. But how do you define poverty? Clearly it has a relative dimension. If the lack of electricity or running water is poverty, then does that make everyone who lived before modern times poor? I would postulate that only in modern times has a significant portion of the world been able to go through their entire lives without ever experiencing hunger (even while a just as significant a portion in the world goes hungry). Or is poverty simply the struggle to physically survive? Even then, I imagine that physical survival has been a struggle for a good majority of humans who have existed, historically the normal human condition, even though many North Americans are removed from that struggle. I think the word "poverty" will be more meaningful, if we give it a component of justice. That is, define it as a relative lack of material resources due to economic or structural injustice.

A Honduran Christian man once saw me ackwardly helping to cut the grass in the church lot with a machete. He asked me if anyone in the United States ever cuts grass with a machete. Only with machines, right? But he said I would find wisdom from having used a machete. What wisdom will I gain? And how does living in a world with obvious economic disparity affect my Christian walk, especially as one blessed by the world's economic structures based on where I was born?

I will take the opportunity to share a few peices of my learnings and thoughts in my life here. In certain ways, I feel that by virtue of living in a marginalized Honduran community I have an idea what it is like to be "poor;" at least I'm given an insight into their lives. Most North Americans and well-to-do Hondurans would say I have made a "sacrifice" by working here. Yet I haven't really made a sacrifice in comparison to the people in the community. I work indoors, with air conditioning, not laying block under the hot sun. I have traveled enough in Honduras to know their country much better than they do, including scenic places. I have more personal space than the people I live with, and elsewhere to stay; if there were a flash flood I could pack up my things and have somewhere to go.

As I get into a routine and observe the routines of people around me, they can stop seeming "poor," since they handle their economic situation quite naturally, interrupted some by talk of emigrating. My own routine can cause me to stop noticing poverty--at least until I am asked to take a photo of a particular student and discover he lives in a house made entirely of scrap wood and old tin sheeting. I am always aware on some level of that reality, but it is no longer shocking. Life goes on; people have relationships and daily activities and can't spend their time thinking, "I'm poor."

An observation people commonly make is that people with less resources are often more willing to share and rely on their neighbors and friends when they get into a tight spot. In a poor country, I observe the ways money has relative worth, even while it's value is anchored in an absolute way to what it buys. The obvious way money is relative is its different purchasing power in different places. Hondurans I know who live what I would consider close to a North American standard of living might really have considerably less income, while foreign development workers earning first-world salaries can live in luxury in Honduras. A family's standard of living is "poor" or "rich" depending on what others in their society have, but in an increasingly globalized world, the comparison becomes more and more international. The Hondurans of my community seem very aware of their position in society, and some acquire a poverty mindset. They would move out of the neighborhood if they could. "There aren't ugly places like this in the United States, are there?" I have been asked. Many men in the community support their families building two-story houses for the upper class, while many people have access to cable TV, which shows enormous wealth from other places. I wonder how it would be different if they where unconcious of their status, while having the same resources.

It is interesting to listen to money conversations, because they help to reveal what "a lot" is to Hondurans. I imagine 100 lempiras must seem more to them than $5 (the approximate exchange rate) seems to us. For many, it would be as harder to come by than $50 for a gringo. But I still think it's perceived value is still closer to $5 than $50, because 100 lempiras doesn't usually buy $50 worth of things (despite greater purchasing power in a poor country). Gift items in particular tend to be imported items that wouldn't be cheaper here. I figure I should spend approximately the same as I would in the US in an equivalent situation in order to not appear stingy. Hondurans apparently spend a lesser percentage of their income on themselves than North Americans (maybe because it is more costly for them to give "nice" gifts). In my setting here, the value of money is perceived based on what it buys, more than its percentage of your income, but I don't think that is so true for the middle class.

Though I feel over time, I can relate more and more naturally with those in my community, difference in economic level and life experience is significant, and I have begun to understand that much of my culture shock in coming here has had to do more with those differences rather than nationality. I am not culturally the same as any Honduran, but there would be less cultural differences between me and Hondurans with a similar level of education or resources. Over time, I more often connect aspects of Honduran culture to their circumstances, or to their recources.

I have mostly interacted with Honduran evangelicals. I see that socioeconomic level has a profound influence on the spirituality of Christians. Middle-class Christians in the United States view themselves as in control of their finances. They plan for the future and view their financial decisions to have direct control on their financial success or failure. The Christians from my community of Asentamientos Humanos tend to hope in future "blessings" from the Lord, they view themselves as less in control, and the primary control they have over their finances is their spiritual faithfulness, by which they hope God will bless them. If they have trouble, the first response might be: "How have I failed God?" or to cloak it in the language of "a test of faith," after which a reward is expected for perseverance. Their language in church subtly indicates the struggles some have with poverty: they commonly speak of "keep going forward," and of God's being the solution to any problem you might have.

Sometimes I am disappointed by the way many Hondurans seem to blame their own country for their poverty. Of course it is not helpful to see poverty in a deterministic way, but I think it needs to be acknowledged that a major cause is the historical (and present) exploitation of their country from foreign interests. I also am troubled by the influence of the prosperity gospel in the churches-- the notion that God wants not only to provide for the needs of his children, but prosper them materially (and giving lots of offering money is promoted as the way to get rich). I wonder if such concepts can discourage sharing between Christians, as though God will bless them magically rather than through each other.

What I do know is that the Hondurans I am in contact with do support each other in significant ways, both materially and emotionally. While there are always those with serious hardships, I see that many families are able to make do with less, and have full and happy lives. That is encouraging to see, even though it must not take away the ugliness of economic injustice. There is much to be learned from those who live with less.

Regionalisms in HondurasSeptember 16, 2007

ImmigrationJuly 9, 2007

The Blessing of GodJune 3, 2007

Questions not all Frequently AskedMay 18, 2007

El MuditoMay, 2007

QuotesFeb 12, 2007

The Mencía familyMarch, 2007

Updated June 22, 2008