48: A Slum Experience

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The entire group that participated in 2013’s 48: Slum Experience

How was your weekend?? Such a common Monday question (or Tuesday this week. I love you, Martin Luther King.), but how often we give a common Monday answer: Good. Fine. It was ok. This week I’ve been handling that question a little differently. That’s because last weekend, Saturday thru Monday, I was with youth from First Baptist Church on the Square at SIFAT in Lineville, Ala.

SIFAT (Servants in Faith and Technology) was born in 1976 when the Corson family came back from their mission work in Bolivia. While they were there, they noticed that a lot of times the people they were preaching to were dying by the end of the week. They were trying to fill the individuals spiritually, but their practical needs (food, water, shelter) weren’t being met. When they came back to Lineville they started SIFAT with the mission to “help people from different countries, cultures and social classes understand each other and work together, so that every person can have a chance to develop into the person God intends for each to be.” They do this by bringing in community leaders from around the world to train in appropriate technology, but they also host groups (like ours!) in what is called the slum experience. Typically, slum experiences are only about three hours long, but yearly they perform a 48-hour experience, which I had the joy to take part in.

It started with customs. We were only allowed to bring certain items including and completely limited to: clothes (only to layer, not to wardrobe change), flashlight, sleeping bag, water bottle and any prescription meds. That means no toothbrush, face wash, underwear (gross, I know), or electronics (watches included).

We then hiked to the slum. When we arrived everyone was speaking Spanish and there were no directions. You just began. It was literally how I imagine it must feel to move into a real slum: no friends, no directions, no house. People were just screaming, and smoke filled the air. We began slowly figuring out how things worked. We had to find the landlord to rent a shack (think holes in the walls, tarp as a door). Then you had to find work to pay for your rent, food, and water. If you didn’t make enough money, there were no fallbacks. You slept outside, didn’t eat, and didn’t drink. Just how it would really be in a slum.

We did this most of Saturday and all day Sunday. I sewed for a total of 10 hours in a sweat shop the entire experience and only made 300 bolivianos. To put this in perspective, a banana was 50 bolivianos. The first night, my family, a family of five, shared two potatoes and a banana. I know you might be wondering how we could’ve possibly eaten a potato without cooking it, so I’ll proudly tell you. The Tancara family were ballers and found an old wheelbarrow that we used as our makeshift grill. We started our own fire in the wheelbarrow, sliced the potatoes, and grilled them on top of a piece of tin we found in the junk yard. We did this for dinner both nights and allowed several other families to use it.

There were several things I learned while in the slum.

1. We as Americans are very idealistic. Let me explain. On Sunday, I was part of a group that tried to start a school in the slum, thinking that education is power. It is, right? Well, in our American society it is, but what is its use in an urban slum?? Maybe over a long period of time, a school could be sustainable, but it can’t just happen in a day. What I found was that the money it costs to go to school is money people don’t have. It also removes children from working, and a lot of times a family needs EVERY person to work or else they don’t eat or keep their house. Also, with jobs like making bricks and sewing being the main money makers, what is the pull to learn to read? It’s terrible, and I am not saying that education isn’t worth it. However, I am saying that so often Americans throw our money and time into “education” when what these people need more than anything is food, water, shelter, and Jesus. Education will have its time, but let’s hit the basics first.

2. It is easy to be tricked into thinking prostitution is your best option. Once again, I am NOT saying that I stand for prostitution. It is terrible, and I hate it. I hate that so many women get forced and/or fooled into slavery. However, in our experience, the prostitutes received food, drinks, and shelter. Granted, they didn’t get the FULL experience. Instead of performing sexual acts, they were confined to this small room and weren’t allowed to talk ALL day. It was absolutely terrible. However, a group tried to free them, and every single one of them stayed. They stayed because they were being taken care of, some of them had no family to go back to, and the others’ families would’ve had to pay to get them back which meant no food, water, or shelter for them. It truly is a trap that can look so appealing, which is especially terrifying.

3. We are responsible. One thing we talked about after our experience was over, was the need for Christians to rise up and take responsibility for our brothers and sisters (all BILLION of them) around the world. So often after we hear stories or see pictures of people who live in urban slums, our feeling is guilt. One thing I LOVED about 48 was that guilt is the opposite of what SIFAT wants you to feel. We shouldn’t feel guilty that we were lucky enough to be born in America. We shouldn’t feel guilty that we are able to sleep in a bed and eat 3 (or more!) meals a day. However, we should feel responsible. We are the body of Christ, and Christ died for more than Americans. He died for the prostitutes in Bolivia, the poor, the rich, the old, the young. He died for us all, and knowing this we are responsible. But what is really cool is that they are responsible for us too! We ALL are the body, and we ALL are responsible for one another. Such a cool reminder.

I must say, this weekend wasn’t exactly what I call fun, but it was a wonderful experience and a great reminder to be in prayer for the nations.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Grape Juice, Miller Mishaps

So… the last time I posted was New Year’s Eve. Whoopsies! To catch you up, I’ll share my favorites of this month/ things worthy of note. 

1. On New Year’s Eve, Josh and I went to the grocery store together to get all of the foods I’d need to cook on New Year’s Day. While there Josh decided he wanted Welch’s Sparkling Grape Juice (the kind that looks like a champagne bottle), but we couldn’t find it! The only thing we could find was in the organic section. After a lot of convincing, JRB finally conceded to buy the organic sparkling grape juice, but he wasn’t happy about it. He was so unhappy that he said, “I just don’t like buying organic because then I feel like the hippies win.” I nearly lost it. 

Fast forward a couple of days, and we are once again at the grocery store. Good news! We found Welch’s Sparkling Grape Juice! When we got into the car, I figured we would at least make it home before popping it open. Nope. Josh and I proceeded to drive around LaGrange looking at houses (in the market to rent. fyi.) and drinking our grape juice from a champagne-looking bottle. I obviously sang “Ridin’ Dirty” on several occasions. 

2. On the topic of grape juice, Josh also made us buy grape juice and bread for Communion. We were obviously pulling for Notre Dame against Alabama in the National Championship game, but didn’t own any Fighting Irish clothes or paraphernalia, so we went with what we thought was the closest thing- Communion foods. I haven’t decided if that was offensive yet, but I told my Catholic friend, and she thought it was hilarious. So, I’ll go with funny, but maybe not do it again? 

3. January also has brought more wrestling matches and tournaments. Since Josh is a referee that means he’s been gone a lot more than I would like (but the check every other week is pretty nice!). That being said, Miler and I have had a lot of bonding time. Unfortunately, Miller hasn’t bonded so well with others in our apartment complex. 

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Proof of our bonding: naps together. Proof Miller is spoiled: He is on the big couch. I am on the love seat.

You see, Miller loves to sit out on our porch and watch people (or survey his kingdom, whichever you prefer). The problem is, he thinks he’s outside so he thinks he can use the bathroom on our porch. Wouldn’t be that big of a deal if we weren’t on the THIRD FLOOR. So yes, his urine trickles down to our downstairs neighbors. We knew we had to get really serious about his potty habits on the deck when I heard our neighbor start screaming at Miller. He was peeing on our porch, and although nothing has been proven, I believe it was splattering on her. I felt ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE. Josh and I baked them cookies, and profusely apologized immediately. Since then, we’ve been keeping a much closer watch over Miller while he surveys his kingdom.

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Surveying his kingdom

4. On a less fun note, I’ve gotten sick. Last Friday I started feeling bad, and it just go worse. I went to the doctor on Sunday hoping to be better by the weekend, and that just wasn’t the case. I skipped out on my small group (which is a highlight of my week) because I felt so poorly. I honestly feel like a zombie just meandering around. So I went again to the doctor today, got some different medicine, and am hoping for a quick recovery!

Bierman Family Favorites: 2012

Since tonight is New Year’s Eve, I decided I would compile a list of my favorite things from the year 2012. I asked Josh to help, and this is what we came up with as our “Bierman Family Favorites: 2012.” These are in no particular order.

Wedding

O.K. I lied. Getting married tops the list, but from now on they are in no particular order.

Vegas

In 2012, we took many trips. Las Vegas with my Dad’s side of the family was one of them.

Duke Chapel

Visiting family in Durham (Josh’s first time to visit)

Knoxville

Visiting friends in Knoxville (My first trip there)

Fishing

Vacationing in Charleston

Back Top Photo

Graduating from Auburn

Happy Miller

Adopted Miller Bierman in July

FBC On The Square

Finding a body of believers to plug into in our new city

JRB at work

Obtaining big boy/big girl jobs

What is more American than burgers? Also note: our t-shirts and Miller's collar. Go U.S.A.!

Celebrating the Olympics

Beautiful Bride

Celebrating friends’ marriages and engagements

Paige with Washer/Dryer

Making our first big purchase together

This has been quite the year for the two of us, but we’re so excited to see what 2013 will bring. Happy New Year!