I have always considered myself incredibly blessed. I have a family who loves me, friends around the world, a university education. But technically, until this year, I’ve lived under the poverty line for my entire adult life- all ten years of it.
Realizing that shocks me. It shocks me because I’ve been living my dreams. Getting to love and tell the stories of people in other cultures has been such a privilege. Yes, it has cost me, but doesn’t everything of value?
Only in the past two years have I realized how different my thinking is from most people’s. In Egypt, my friends were constantly shocked at the way I would turn down work that wasn’t meaningful, instead taking lower paying jobs I could believe in. They couldn’t understand my faith that if God led me on a path, He would sustain me. But He did.
Now I earn a good salary working for an international charity. I have health benefits, a pension, and am actually being taxed for possibly the first time. Many of my coworkers take great comfort in the security of those benefits. When we’ve discussed missionaries, aid workers, and those who live in deliberate poverty for the sake of community, I’ve heard them say, “But how do they do that? What about their RRSPs?!”
I am free from the paralyzing fear of life without an RRSP (although it’s nice to have one now that I do) because of my parents. It’s Mother’s Day. Tomorrow, I turn 28, the same age my mom was when she moved to Senegal, West Africa.
She was 28. My mother was 28 when she and my father sold our house and almost everything in it to go serve a people she had only heard about. She was 28 when she took myself, at seven, and my little five-year-old sister by the hand and boarded a plane to the complete unknown.
When they left, my mother had only travelled to the UK, and my father had never been outside North America. There were no internet travel guides, or Skype calls with people in the field. My parents believed that Senegal was where they needed to go, so they went.
I always knew there was a difference between what I had and what my friends’ had- even some of the other missionary kids. But, mostly, those differences slipped off me like water across our cool tiled floor. With books, coloured pencils and imagination I could create any world I wanted to. Later, as a teenager at a private school in Toronto, those differences became pretty glaring. Even still, when I saw what went on behind the walls of my friends’ houses, I was glad for the family I had.
We always had enough, because my parents believed that their primary mission was their family. But we were also never rich, because God had a calling on us that went beyond anything you could attach monetary value to. My parents’ love for the children of Senegal informed everything they did- from my mom’s organization of child sponsorship files, to my dad’s training of Senegalese teachers, to our family’s support for a single mother and her ailing child. It was infectious- so infectious, that I still have the disease, 21 years later.
Living overseas changes you. The shiny trappings of wealth begin to look a little tainted, when you know the bleeding hands they came from. You can see the tinges of rust lurking in the corners of fancy cars, brand-new gilded mirrors. And the empty echo of a marble hall becomes a poor substitute for the hard-packed dirt floor of a Senegalese village church, trembling with the music, dancing and laughter of new friends who have always been your brothers and sisters.
I know that I am blessed, because I have caught the joy of those with much less than me. I owe that joy entirely to my parents.
Happy Mother’s Day.