Sri Lanka: Re-Entry

Maybe it’s just the jet lag and sleep deprivation but whenever I have a quiet moment I find myself trying find answers to my own internal debate over what this trip to Sri Lanka means to me. After all, It’s not my first time seeing poverty but it’s the first time I’ve seen it as an adult with a career and children. It’s the first time that the eyes of my understanding have been fully opened to some realities of poverty that I would rather not have to think about such as exploitation, child endangerment, and perpetual hunger. When I was a child on the “mission field” I only understood as a child. Much of that innocence has now been lost.

It not easy being confronted with uncomfortable truths about poverty.  At some points I’ve almost convinced myself that the best course would be to think about happier things than hungry kids or hopeless parents. “Enough!” I tell myself, “You have your own problems to deal with.” Then having determined to harden my heart and rid my mind of such upsetting things, I immediately proceeded to  think about the heartbreak and undiscovered joy found in Sri Lanka that much more.

I pour my daughter her cereal and wonder if a boy I met went hungry this morning (as he often does) so that his little sister has enough to eat. I turn on my kitchen sink and marvel at running water clean enough to drink right from the tap and think of a family that has to buy its drinking water by the jug. I take out the garbage and think of how much food I throw away in a year simply because it’s more convenient than trying to save it and wonder how many children I could feed on the leftovers. I haven’t even been back to a grocery store yet. I’m not sure I’m ready to be reminded of our American eating habits just now.

It’s not that I fault anybody for living the Western-style life that we enjoy. I work hard for the few things I have. But now I know the names and faces of people who work much harder and have much less to show for it. That disparity may not be my fault but what I have seen cannot be unseen and I am now responsible for how I respond to what I know. Can I somehow improve the life of a child, a family, or a village? That question now perpetually follows my soul.

Perhaps these thoughts will end and I can put it completely out of my mind someday. I’ll care only a little. I’ll love only slightly. I’ll rebuild the walls around my heart and fiercely guard them against every uncomfortable thought and feeling. But trading away my compassion in hopes of comfort would seem to be poor bargain. What does it profit if I keep my heart safe but lose my humanity in the process?

I’m not sure exactly what my future holds now but I’m sure that my heart is now set on a different course that I’m sure my feet will soon follow. I hope that I’ve helped in some small way to let you all see what I’ve seen this week. And I hope your heart has been opened as mine has. If you haven’t yet checked out the child sponsorship program I’d ask you to set your fears aside and let your heart be open.

You cannot unsee the crying needs. I can’t imagine wanting to.

Share Joy - Sponsor a Child in Sri Lanka

23 thoughts on “Sri Lanka: Re-Entry”

  1. Dear Darrell:

    I could be wrong about this, but I think you’re going to need some time to reflect on this collage of images/scenes/experiences and what they mean from a ‘kingdom of God’ perspective.

    Also know that returning to the US often causes culture shock that is often more intense than the experience away from home.


    Christian Socialist

    1. I completely agree. Returning to the US is its own culture shock. And it will take months to process everything we saw and did. Maybe a lifetime. I hope so anyway. Brace yourself — the grocery store SUCKS.

      1. I remember going to the jungles of Peru, and returning home to watch Terminator 2 while eating popcorn. It was so confusing, my head literally started spinning, and I got sick to my stomach. I had seen something real over there, and the overt nature of our consumerist culture gave me a mini panic attack.

  2. What do we do with the, “What now?”

    From our voyeuristic perspective it has been like a Mission Conference. Here are firsthand accounts and we are all pumped up with fresh stories of real people and real lives. Yet in the end each of us have to answer, “What Now?”

    Back in the old days it would be simple the M-O-g would get up, preach the closing sermonette, have everyone gather round the altar for prayer and then tell us what God laid on his heart that we should do, how much we should give and that would be that.

    What is the equivalent of a cup of cold water in a country where water can be drank out of the tap?

    How do I answer, “What now?”

    1. Dear Don:

      Your ‘what now’ raises a huge question.

      I think of church as kingdom leaven. By being alive and active ourselves, we infect the world with the grace of God’s kingdom. To that end, we need a radically refurbished mind for a radicalized faith with a radical commitment to a radical Christ. Open to misrepresentations? Yeppers! But then the last I heard, belief in Jesus’ resurrection is mighty radical.

      RE: our continuing education curriculum: I suggest…

      Matt Smay
      Alan Hirsh
      Tim Chester
      Miroslav Volf
      Brandon Hatmaker

      All these can be read with profit. But if you can read but one text, read …

      Hugh Halter’s title: ‘SACRILEGE.’

      Constantine’s Great [in my view, heretical] Compromise is collapsing. It’s time to rethink everything, and to see mission not as what we do but what we ARE. We ARE God’s mission. Through us, God is reconciling the world to himself [2Co 5:18-21].

      You’re likely looking for specific, rather than strategic things we can do. I think we need both the specific and the strategic. Anyway, you ask a great [if profound] question.


      Christian Socialist

  3. It is indeed difficult to know how to react, in the face of so many problems in the world.

    I am told that if the West really wants to help people in third world countries, we should massively cut back on our farm subsidies, which would allow these countries to export to us. This is unlikely to happen any time soon though, as the farm lobbies are too strong, and the public seems unaware of this aspect of the issue. Organisations like World Vision seem to do a good job in a culturally sensitive way, but preventing our government policies from actually doing harm, would also go a long way.

  4. I have always believed that American arrogance could be cured by sending every American to live out of the USA for at lest a week.

    Following you for a week has been good. Obviously we do not have the smells and sounds to go with the experience, but, Hey, the price was right!

    Thanks, Darrell for sharing with us.

    Welcome back!

    1. Amen to your first sentence! One of my dreams is to take my family to live in a developing country for at least a year before my oldest child finishes high school. I think it would make a world of difference in combating entitlement, arrogance, and ingratitude.

    2. Ricardo, I agree, but would go a step farther. I believe everyone should not only go see another part of the world, but travel somewhere that speaks another language. Go out on your own without an interpreter, and be the true minority visitor. (Not all the time, but at least a half day in a market or some stores)

      Where I live it is not uncommon for people to have never even visited our border states. Many only travel in an area measured by counties. My children have been on three other continents and over 30 US states. If people in the US would see the world is bigger than their hometown, many attitudes would change.

      Mark Twain wrote this in Innocents Abroad, and it still fits 140+ years later:
      The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass. If the case be otherwise, I beg his pardon and extend to him the cordial hand of fellowship and call him brother.

      I certainly realized my potential as a consummate ass as an American. I get really strange looks when I answer a gripe about things made in China with, “Well, my friends in China have to eat too.”

      1. Of course I found the other quote I was looking for after I posted. Same book and author:
        Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

        It worked for me. Those Northern Yankees aren’t nearly as bad as they were made out to be.

  5. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. It’s been profound, and I know it’s been life-changing for you.

    Welcome home, Darrell!

  6. Darrell,

    Thank you for your posts.

    It will be a brief interlude before the haters begin to respond to your notes.

    Unfortunately, the discomfort or un-ease reading comes from your loyal readers but will not come from those that will say those cultures and peoples are inferior and deserve their station because of their belief structures, etc.

    I notice, in this election year, that one of the parties wishes for no more foreign aid and would prefer a nice – and another one – tidy war probably costing again in the trillions.

    So, keep writing and keep noticing.

    This site is a national treasure.

    Thank you,

  7. “Wall around your heart” puts me in mind of a turtle, who does wear his shell to protect his heart and other innards, and yet keeps plodding ahead, determined. Maybe it’s part of being human, maybe we have to “harden our hearts” enough to we don’t get ripped to shreds every time we see true poverty, think about all the children–and focus on the ones in front of us, on the ones we CAN help. I think of the turtle, determined to push ahead, step, step, step, maybe his heart is armored but he carries a child on his back, and he will not give up on that child.
    Maybe you’re finding your true calling in Sri Lanka. 🙂

  8. Glad you made it back safely.

    Your post today reminded me of this favourite quote by C.S. Lewis: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

    1. I love that quote too. I wrote it in my journal in college and have been reminded of its truth throughout the years.

  9. “There’s no comfort in the growth zone & no growth in the comfort zone”. I don’t know who said it, but it’s totally true. If you are comfortable in your life you are doing it wrong, IMO. 🙂

    Welcome home!

  10. Glad you made it back safely! What an adjustment that must be. I hope you made some lifelong memories during your trip.

  11. After having just traveled to the urban poor parts of Thailand and been to a small village with a variety of people (a few attended university, for instance, and some are from Myanmar recently moved to Thailand) and volunteered with a children’s home, I am having very similar thoughts. I experienced quite a bit of culture shock. There are things you know, and then things you experience. My outlook on life and what is truly important has changed. I constantly think about the children I saw and wonder how many of them will go to university. I think about them every day and pray that the ones safe in the center will grow up to accomplish their dreams and educate others. I hope and pray that the ones living in poverty will stay safe and grow up to make better lives for themselves, but often reality is not that idealistic. Some will do well, and others will continue living in the cycle of poverty.

    This trip has made me realize how important organizations such as the YMCA, World Vision, and many other really are. They make a huge difference in many people’s lives, one person or community at a time. There will always be poverty, human trafficking, and other devastating aspects of life. But the important thing is to try to have as much of an impact as possible and to realize how important it is if one more person has an improved life, and for those who lived lives with such tragic events and struggles, that they will grow from them and help work toward ending those issues.

  12. The world is ugly when you look at through adult eyes. I can empathize with your tangled emotions after returning to our ridiculously blessed nation. It must seem almost…obscene.

    But, not everyone here is eating Happy Meals twenty-four seven, and lots of folks who we think are doing “just great” really just aren’t.

    I think, perhaps, the best way to honor the faces you saw in Sri Lanka and the hearts that moved you and the Savior who died for them all is to love the ones nearest to you as best you can, be they your own children or the homeless guy selling newspapers on the corner.

    The value of journeys like yours is they deepen the capacity of the heart to love like Jesus did, to see people as human, and not just as “rich” or “black” or “poor” or “gay” or “handicapped”.

    A warning, though, the deeper the capacity of the heart, the more it will hurt as you long for home.

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