Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Making Me Pay

[what’s brewing today: a bitter brew-ha-ha]

As much as I try to assume the best of the people around me, there are times when I just feel the need to call a spade a spade. Veronica is notorious for her bad attitude. Unbeknownst to me, when I arrived on the scene several years ago as the girlfriend of the well-known missionary kid, I had no idea the problems I was stirring up with her. She was very friendly with my-then-boyfriend, Jason, but her attitude toward me wasn’t pretty.

How was I to know that she had set her heart on him years ago?

Perhaps I was naïve to believe that she would have moved on by the time Jason and I returned to work here as a married couple several years later, but it soon became evident that she was still harboring a bitter attitude towards me. I did my best to demonstrate kindness to her, hoping on some level that it did feel like burning coals being heaped upon her head. Because her attitude had persisted for weeks after our arrival, I was a bit suspicious when she approached me after Bible study with a sweet smile on her face. Feeling that I’d made noticeable progress in my language learning, I was a bit offended when she said, “I know you don’t usually understand everything correctly, so I’m going to talk to Jason and he can tell you what I’m saying.”

Smile, I told myself. Heap those coals, those burning coals.

Through my husband’s translation, she explained in an oh-so-sweet tone that she would like me to be the madrina of her tournament volleyball team. What would this entail? Purchasing their volleyball uniforms, paying their tournament entrance fees and providing refreshments during their games. She smiled at both Jason and I and restated what an honor it would be for her if I would accept this role. Once it was explained, thanks to Jason's translation of course, she looked me in the eye and wanted my answer. I uttered a few um’s, feeling rather uncomfortable as a group of church members looked on, all waiting for my response. I glanced at Jason, my eyes begging for help, but he encouraged me to make my own decision and answer her on my own.

In that moment, I was amazed at the number of thoughts that can fly through one’s mind in a matter of seconds. Who does this girl think she is? She’s treated me like trash since the day I met her, and now in her moment of need she pays me this great “honor” of being the madrina? Please, you aren’t asking because of any relationship you have me, you’re asking because I’m an American and you want my money. Or is this your opportunity to strike back out of your jealousy over Jason? And the nerve you have to ask me in front of a group of people, in the church, after insulting my ability to understand you!

I’m not giving you a penny!

I shot another glance at Jason, imagined a scoopful of hot coals, smiled and said, “Sure, I’d be glad to.” And that’s when it started-- the process of correcting my own attitude and changing my motivation from hot coals to demonstrating love as I'm called to do. I could have said no, and I don’t think that would’ve been the wrong thing to do, but since I said yes it was time for Miss Madrina to work it out with the Lord.

This was the first, but not the last time that the madrina / padrino issue surfaced for us, and it remains a cultural element that is difficult for me to understand. The literal translation is “godmother” or “godfather” but practically it puts you in the seat of financial responsibility for the given event – birthday parties, weddings, and apparently sports teams. It originated as honorable title, and I believe it is still practiced that way among many people here. However, I usually want to ask people, “Is this really about me, or is it that fact that I’m an American and you think I have endless financial resources?” I feel selfish when I get so flustered by the requests, but my issue is not with the money aspect of it because, comparatively, we do have far more financial resources than those in the community we work in.

My issue is with the feeling of being objectified as a money source. I don’t want to be seen that way, but ultimately that is something I can’t control. Jason and I want to use the financial resources we have to support the people around us in their times of need – but I just don’t see a volleyball team as being a need that I want to use my money for. I caved under the pressure around me and said yes to something I felt uncomfortable with.

Veronica later presented me with a plastic trophy that the team won at the tournament, a consolation gift which confirmed that my first madrina experience was indeed about my money, not me.

6 comments:

Donna Rudd said...

Ouch! That's a hard one! I can relate!

Libby said...

Oh man! I am still struggling with those very thoughts each time we are asked to be padrinos too. In fact, this week we are right in the middle of this.
How do you help in this way without encouraging them to show off their "good luck" in having the American padrinos with "endless" cash.
I am just so sad really that they just see $ signs.
Each time it seems God has something to teach me...mainly in my attitude. Sigh.

Ellie said...

It is an issue we do not deal with, well, not exactly like that, not where I am.

But,we face the same thing in other ways. People seeing dollar signs when they see us. Being told exaggerated stories of need... which we find out later they also told our coworkers and received help for already. Feeling used.

Then I wonder... have we ever been guilty of the same thing... not so much the same way, but how do we react when we are asked to a meeting with someone who could make a large donation, a possible regular monthly supporter.

I hope we do not come across the same.

I am sure our motives are better. I hope so.

But do we come across in the same way - seeing people as dollar signs?

I think I have at times. I hope I didn't. It is just a question that comes as I read our frustration with the constant requests.

Lord, let us do better.

Diana said...

First impulse on reading this several days ago was to roll up my sleeves and show off my "battle scars" on this issue but....I decided to ponder awhile and to let God to show me what to do with all feelings your entry stirred up in me. Today the flowing came in an email from a friend. She did not write it but said, "This reminded me of something you said when you were home. You talked about being seen as a dollar tree. You also said you struggled because you have the gift of giving. So I thought I'd just send it. If I remembered wrong sorry."
Freehand giving
by Rosemary ~ June 23rd, 2008
As I was loading several bags of groceries into my car, I heard a voice behind me saying, Excuse me, ma’am.” I turned to see a thin woman and a weary-looking boy, his skinny legs sticking out of his shorts. In her hands the woman held a cantaloupe that another shopper had given her. I had seen them talking to her, and hoped I could get away before she got to me. “Could you help me? I hate to ask but I need money to buy food for my children and get by until payday.”
Excepting the time we lived in Nepal, I’ve always had a policy of not giving money to people who approach me or stand at the side of the street begging. I don’t trust what they’ll do with the money.
“I’m sorry; no,” I said to her, feeling guilty that I refused her. Here I was, loading bags and bags of food for my family into the car, and there she was with her skinny, hungry son. The contrast was glaring. Besides that, I had been reading Piper’s What Jesus Demands From the World and these words were running through my head:
“Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.” ~Luke 6:30
Piper wrote: It seems to me that in all the complexity of life that can easily help us rationalize disobedience to these commands, we should default to literal obedience when we are unsure of what love calls for. For example, should I give to those who ask for money on the street in my context in urban America? How do I “do good” to those who ask? Jesus did not seem to be as concerned about being taken advantage of as I am (Matt. 5:40,42). I am often angered by the lies I am being told. But I do not think this is the spirit of Jesus.
I think the spirit of Jesus would first feel compassion even for a skilled liar. Then it would desire to move into the life of that liar with the good news that Jesus came into the world to save liars. Then it would try, if the other demands of love allow, to engage the person more deeply and, if possible, take him somewhere to eat together and talk. If that is not possible, then love may give freely even knowing the person is a con artist. And at times love may say no–for example, if the person has been back many times and has proven to be a liar and consistently refused a relationship of love. But my point is, when these things are less clear, the spirit of Jesus seems to me to call for freehand giving.
I looked in my purse to see what cash I had. A $5 bill and two singles. Skeptically, obediently, (almost) free-handedly, I grabbed the five and went after the woman. “You’re going to use this to buy food, right?”
“Yes, ma’am; thank you. God bless you, ma’am.”
I handed her the money and returned to my car. When I finished loading my groceries, I turned to see where the woman and her son were. The melon had been dumped into an abandoned cart, and they were far across the parking lot, on their way to somewhere. Obviously they weren’t very hungry or they wouldn’t have left the melon behind.
Right. I had been taken. Duped. The woman was a con artist who used the boy, whom I assume was her son, as a tool of her trade. I watched them walk away; taking my hard-earned money to use for goodness knows what. It ticked me off.
I despise being taken advantage of, so my immediate response was angry regret. Feeling naive and stupid, I drove home thinking about what had just happened. I wished that I had given the two dollars instead of the five. I should kept to my first answer and not been so impulsive. I should have grabbed the stupid cantaloupe so it wouldn’t go to waste.
After several minutes of spouting off, it occurred to me: my obedience wasn’t undermined by the woman’s response; it could only be undermined by my response. The spirit of Jesus calls for freehand giving. Whatever I have has been freehandedly given to me, without regret. How can I do anything less?
As far as I know this was more about my giving and trusting God with the results, than whatever actually happened with the woman and boy. Only God knows what took place in their lives, which may have been little or much. But if I see them again and they ask me for money, I wonder if they’ll take me up on my offer to buy them lunch and talk for a while.

Coffeegirl said...

Great feedback - this is the type of dialog I was hoping to hear after posting about this topic. It's a multifaceted issue and my emotions about it sway back and forth, just as Diana's story reflects. I've often wished that Christ would've taken a moment to speak about this struggle that he must have known would develop for us, but interestingly he didn't. He called us to give, to love, and to seek the best in others. And now we have the responsibility of making sure our hearts are motivated by those values, whether we give or decide not to. Ellie, I think you make a great point about the ways that we may fall into the same trap - the amount of time we offer to certain people, the details we share, or choose to hold back...

Coffeegirl said...

I read this prayer this morning with a heart that was contemplating the dynamics of this complex issue of giving to those who ask. I feel it summarizes my heart's cry with regard to this topic:

O God, let me begin this day with Thee; for, if I begin it not with Thee, I shall find the day too much for my little strength: its tasks shall chafe upon me, its irritations shall sour me, its temptations shall overthrow me, and my fellows shall surely weary me. Let me not begin this day in my own strength, lest I begin it with sighing and end it with regretting. But let me begin this day, my God, with Thee, so shall the day, begun in confidence, end in gladness. So, at eventide, shall I go to rest in peace; and by Thy sure support, lie down without reproach - at one with Thee. Amen.

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