Thursday, February 04, 2010


I'm on my way back from India after doing an assessment trip for the medical mission we'll be doing here the end of April. Slums and poverty were the mainstay of the assessment, with medical needs noted not too drastically different than what we see in many other countries: malnutrition, worms, rashes, chronic pneumonias, TB and vitamin deficiency. One thinks that after all the countries that we've been too that even though the disease are the same, the living environments are not that much different from place to place, that we would find this quite easy to do. What is different. From country to country is the people. Who they are and how they cope. Why they live the way they do and how they try to find a better way of life. The medicine aside, it's the interaction that we have with those to whom we are entrusted to serve. Each culture, each person, each community is different. The antibiotics we give are the same regardless of where we are. It's how we interact with those who come to us for the antibiotics that is uniquely different. And you may ask why. Shouldn't we be gracious to all regardless? Does compassion change from one culture to the next? No, it shouldn't. But what does is out understanding of the reasons why people live the way they do. Without that understanding, we have a tendency to miss the most important part of a covenant relationship with those who come to us: understanding, acceptance, trust and honesty. We can find it easily to take for granted that we know what is best for those who are less fortunate. We are very often far from being right. Like it or not, we put our own value systems into place, based on our own lives and our own circumstances and find ourselves sometimes making decisions for others that may leave them worse off than they6 are now. I come to this simply because of what I've seen: trying to make lives better for those who are less fortunate, when really they are very happy with what they have, and to put them in a different place than where they are accustomed, can cause them angst and confusion.

My parents and their parents, and their parents were all from Egypt and Syria. My parents immigrated to the US and I remember vividly traveling to Egypt with my father to get the extended family out of Egypt to the US to a better life. My great uncle, my grandfather's brother, was 80 years old when we got him to the US. He lived in San Francisco for the remaining few years of his life, living on Egypt time: he kept his watch on Cairo time. He was heart broken and missed his life and his country. He may have been less fortunate, but I believe we compromised the last few years of his life by trying to give him a better life than what he had. Less fortunate. By whose standards. I make not pretense in suggesting that those who live in the slums should be allowed to stay there and that it is not up to us to move them and give them something better. I am suggesting that we need to begin to understand that the life they have, even though it is hard and difficult, is in fact their life. We can make it better by helping them within their own community and make their lives where they live a little better. Displacement, moving, and suggesting that a better way of life is what they need, may be pretentious. It may be t he simply things that may make all the difference in the world for them: clean water, toilets, and electricity. But they can continue to live in their community, surrounded by those they know, in a country they love, and feel like they are better for it.

The harsh reality of Haiti remains. The confusion of distribution of food, medicine and housing. The devastation of lives and families. The harsh reality of the slums of India remains. Different, not as acute and traumatic, but harsh reality all the same.

Medical mission work is serving. I am reminded of the Anglican missionary motto: TRANSIENS ADIUVA NOS: "I go overseas to help." Medical Mercy does just that.

In all things give thanks