The Generosity of the Poor

The Canyon

“You say you care about the poor? Tell me their names.” ― Craig Greenfield

The life expectancy is 40 years.
The lucky live on $2 a day.
The hope is one meal a day.
The dirt is their floor and the stars their roof.
The smell of methane fills their lungs.
The lack of choices interrupts their dreams.
They live 10 minutes from the richest country in the world.

These are the lives and challenges of the children and families in the closed garbage dumps of Tijuana, Mexico known as “The Canyon”.

As an American, many things are confusing and unsettling in “The Canyon.”

1. The Mexican government closed the dump, covered it with a couple feet of soil, marked off lots and sold this land back to its poorest citizens knowing that the health risks are devastating.

2. The desperateness of the situation attracts drugs and gangs leading to some very dangerous neighborhoods.

3. The lack of education(most have at best a 7th grade education) drives families to collect trash, burn it and take from it the few precious metals it leaves behind and sell it to the local multi-million dollar recycling company.

4. Children get caught in a vicious cycle where education becomes more difficult to continue as they grow older due to the cost and the need for a birth certificate by the 6th grade, while at the same time, parents need their kids to burn trash to look for income generating metals or watch over their younger siblings while they go off to work somewhere else. These are all obstacles to a higher education.

All of this is the definition of injustice. The first time an American takes a tour of “The Canyon” numbness, sadness, anger and guilt are the emotions that come flooding forth.

But the longer an American hangs out in “The Canyon”, other emotions and observations come forward.

1. There are heroic organizations, private schools and churches that have dedicated their resources and purpose to serve this forgotten community.

2. David Lynch started a school on a blue tarp and 20 years later, almost 100 children, ages 3-5 are getting an education, in a beautiful facility, learning English and computer skills, the two things that will eventually get them out of the canyon creating more options of making and living a decent life.

3. Dave Hessler, a retired American, has an office at the Blue Tarp school and is the unofficial community leader and connector of resources to needs. He meets with families and connects them to food, medical help and better home construction, while advocating for school child sponsorship and newer and bigger computer labs. Dave is a connector but most of all he is a conduit of hope as he listens and prays with each family, and though he can’t meet all the needs, people know he cares and that they are not alone.

4. One of the residents of “The Canyon”, Javier, a father of 6, with his 7th on the way, who lives in a 10 x 20 home, a large home for the canyon, advocates for the less fortunate in his community, having families stay with him while their smaller homes are getting first time roofs or dirt floors are being replaced by cement or walls are being expanded. Javier has so little yet his smile and gratitude is very humbling. Surprisingly Javier’s attitude is representative of many of the residents in “The Canyon”.

With all the injustice and heroism you see in “The Canyon”, as an American, the biggest thing I took away from “The Canyon” was a sense of my own poverty. My life lacks so much.

My lack of gratitude.
My lack of contentment.
My lack of caring for my neighbor.
My greed, ignorance and self-focused priorities exposed my poverty.

As I think of ways to help fight poverty in “The Canyon” I am also thankful for how they are helping me with my own poverty.

This is the way God works. He confounds the seemingly strong and successful by teaching us through the seemingly weak and forgotten.

John Steinbeck in the “Grapes of Wrath” wrote, “If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need – go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help – the only ones.”

The times I have spent over the years in the canyons of Tijuana, Mexico to the valleys of La Mission and Guadalupe, Mexico, Mr. Steinbeck is exactly right.

The generosity of a meal given by a single mom who has nothing, the working along side a father who is struggling to make ends meet, who is helping his homeless neighbor build his house, to a young child wanting to give back to me a portion of the candy I had just handed him is counter-intuitive and mind sheering to an American who never has enough, is constantly worried about the future and holds on to things way to tightly.

As you decide to fight injustice and care for the poor, AND YOU MUST, it is God’s mandate, brace yourself for the lessons you will learn and the freedom you will experience and the strength you will discover through “the least of these.”

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Who is My Neighbor?

Let me tell you one of the most powerful and clear stories Jesus told about how we are to love.
Jesus’ story will be in quotes.
My comments will be in parenthesis.

“One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

(Give the man a gold star on his forehead!)

“The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

(Paraphrased: Life is busy. There is a lot to do. It is very important to know who our neighbor is so we do not, by accident, love someone who is not our neighbor. That would be a waste of time.) Sarcasm noted.

“Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along…”

(Well thank God! This Jewish man is very fortunate, actually blessed to have a priest from his religion come along. This is going to be exciting to see how he helps.)

“But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by…”

(What?)

“A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there…”

(Well, thank God again! Maybe the priest knew that the assistant was coming along and had better gifts to help this half-dead beaten up fellow Jew)

“…but he also passed by on the other side.”

(Double what!?)

“Then a despised Samaritan came along…”

(Oh, this is not going to be good. The Samaritans and Jews did not get along. There was a lot of prejudice between them. You could even call them enemies. Jews would take longer trips just so they didn’t have to through a Samaritan village. Jews and Samaritans didn’t touch each other. If this half dead guy didn’t get help from his Jewish brothers, well, I don’t know if he is going to live.)

“…and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.”

(What in the world is going on!!?)

“The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

(Wow! The man who asked Jesus “who is my neighbor” is probably regretting ever asking the question.)

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

The Good Samaritan, as this story has come to be known, loved his enemy, loved a stranger, and loved a broken person.

These are our neighbors.

At Ashley Wyrick’s high school graduation, she received the normal kind of gifts that graduates get: an iPhone, a digital camera and some clothes.

But Ashley received something else that day that didn’t seem much to those watching, but to her, it was a gift that brought her to tears of thankfulness and joy.

It was a big white box from her godfather, Steve Gibbons, where she received from him his old patrolman’s uniform jacket, size 42.

When she opened it up, she couldn’t hold back her emotions, for that jacket, 18 years earlier had been her first baby blanket.

In 1987, in Redwood City, California, in the cold month of December, 30 year old Highway Patrol officer Steve Gibbons pulled to the side of the road to stretch his legs when he noticed a brown paper bag that was whimpering.

He walked over to the bag and opened it and there was little newborn Ashley, all 6lb., 4oz. of her. Officer Gibbons wrapped this precious, abandoned girl in his patrolman’s jacket and rushed her to the hospital.

18 years later, Ashley, holding that jacket, was reminded of her miracle rescue.

The scriptures teach us that Jesus is watching how we treat and rescue those beaten, broken and abandoned by the side of the road.

For many of us, God has come and rescued us while we were beaten and robbed on the road of life.

He has helped us overcome addictions, grow in character, understand faith, heal our emotional wounds, forgive those who have hurt us and remove the shame of bad decisions.

If God has done those things for you, THAT’S CALLED A MIRACLE.

It’s a miracle that we should never take for granted and it’s a miracle that we are now responsible to pay forward.

With the same comfort God has given you, comfort others.

The writer of Proverbs reminds us “To be a voice for the voiceless.”

There is a sign in the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. that says, “Thou shall not be a victim. Thou shall not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shall not be a bystander.”

If God has rescued you from the side of the road, then Jesus says to you, “Go now and do the same.”