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.
9 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!”