Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Rich Young Man

The day the Haiti earthquake hit I was finishing up a book a friend gave me to take a look at. I also put together a review of it for our ezine. That will go out at midnight tonight.

Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle is the story of this young guy, Kent Annan. Kent is driven to do something meaningful for the poor. He's also, in some sense, seeking a life of greater meaning for himself. So he moves to Port au Prince, Haiti, to work with a mission called Beyond Borders.

In accordance with the agency's policy (and Kent's ideals) he and his wife share a tiny house with a Haitian family for the first few months. As a result they have some overwhelming experiences with culture shock, rats, sickness, etc. But they also learn language, build relationships, and learn to see the world from the point of view of their host family. So the investment seems to pay off.

When it's time to move out, they decide to build a place of their own. Much of the book deals with the building process and the cultural and relational things that come up during that time. The author doesn't really write about the kind of work he was doing, or try to explain why things are the way they are in Haiti or what can be done: instead, he gives us the very personal story of what it was like to go about life in that setting.
"I keep telling Shelly, half joking but half proud, 'I'm building you a house in the Caribbean.' The location is beautiful, but with two small rooms, concrete block walls, a tin roof, little to no electricity, no running water, bucket baths outside and a concrete hole in the ground for a toilet - the luxury of it is open to interpretation."
Kent is very open about his struggles between wanting to get away from the inconveniences, discomfort, and conflicts that come with this way of life, but also wanting to experience the hardest things he can bear, to really walk alongside the poor and not hold himself above them.

I've seen lots of people living cross-culturally who wrestle with those tensions. Certainly, as in the scripture passage from which Kent draws the title of his book, it's no easy thing for a "rich man" (e.g., an American) to follow Jesus while living among the desperately poor. Can we do it?

Yet how can we not do it? Maybe our choice to spend most of our time living among other middle-class people like ourselves suggests we're not following Jesus as much as we might think we are.
"This week profound guilt wells up inside me because we're going to live in a new (if simple) house on a lovely mountainside rather than in a decrepit, rat-ridden shack in Cite Soleil, Haiti's worst slum. According to some, like Mother Teresa, Cite Soleil is among the worst places to live on the planet - so part of me thinks I'll always be cheating unless I'm there (not that we would necessarily survive there). I want to go all the way, but I also want some comfort and compromise. Our marriage is already stumbling under the weight of my (quixotic?) quest. I want and need to offer Shelly safety and security and what is best for her. But I also need to experiment with following this love of neighbor where it demands.

"The simplicity of needs here exposes life's complexities."

>> Visit Kent Annan's website.

The Rich Young Man
Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"

"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

"Which ones?" the man inquired.

Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself."

"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"

Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?"

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Matthew 19:16-26

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