18 July 2014

"Why didn't they send a tractor?"

The idea that much is expected of those who have been given much had been drilled into me as a boy. I saw giving back as my duty – a responsibility I’d accepted from a young age. Feeling the duty to help others after graduating from college, I signed up for the Peace Corps and served two years in a small Peruvian village.

I arrived at my village at age twenty-one filled with nobility, pumped up with the idea of helping humankind. I was proud that I had something to offer these poor folks. But one day, after I’d finally learned enough Spanish to communicate, one of the farmers asked me a question that must have been on everyone’s mind but mine.

“Why did they send you?” he asked. “If they wanted to help us, why didn’t they send a tractor?”

I don’t remember my answer, but I never forgot his question.
Randy Lewis (best known for introducing an inclusive employment model as the Senior Vice President of Logistics at Walgreens – yes, I am a special educator by trade) recounts the above story in No Greatness without Goodness (p. 47), one of my summer reads.
I laughed when I first read it. That was, after all, part of his motivation for “ 'fessing up” and telling a funny but true story. But he also wanted to make an important point. It was a key part of his experience working with people from a totally different culture. His story perfectly captures how, as expats working around the world, we often arrive with an implicit but never spoken aloud (or maybe even consciously realized) intent of taking over rather than coming alongside.
In my experience, it goes something like this:
My many preconceived and sometimes set in stone ideas of how something should be done… or why it should always continue to be done how I’ve seen it work… immediately and unquestionably trump, in my mind, any local ideas and traditional practices, partly because I just can't see how they make sense. Then there’s that awkward, chin on the floor moment when the realization hits but then finally sinks in that maybe, just maybe, I. am. not.... God never sent me to be a mini-savior or God’s gift to a fledgling church, a poor community, struggling teachers, students with disabilities, a group of women who want to read...
We are God’s gift to each other… iron sharpening iron... a more resilient and robust three-fold cord.
I remember one of my such “coming of age” missionary moments...
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