Lessons from the Third World

June 23, 2010 | Editorial | Number 13
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

In our presumed sophistication as First World residents, we often consider ourselves a gift to the rest of the planet. By comparison, aren’t we far more educated, resourceful, wealthy and technologically advanced?

In my recent visit to a small rural village in northern Honduras (see page 4), I was humbled to learn that, with all of our well-intentioned generosity, we have a lot to receive from these kind-hearted, affectionate people who, though with far fewer possessions and little education, have a wealth of spirit, love and, yes, an ingenious savvy to make a place for themselves.

It was a hot, humid Saturday afternoon when our group of six stepped out of our late-model rental van. We were carrying the sign to be placed at the entrance of the village that read Bienvenidos Colonia Amor Y Esperanza (“Welcome to the colony of love and hope”). The posts were already in place.

Before we opened our doors, the villagers, sporting huge smiles, reached out to shake hands and to hug us. I was a complete stranger, but was soon engulfed in hugs. A middle-aged peasant farmer and pastor Mark McCune, who had met during a former visit, walked around the village with arms around each other for 30 minutes. You would have thought the farmer had just been reunited with his best friend!

Contrast that to Arthur Paul Boers’ description (page 16) of body language by Canadian church members in not welcoming a newcomer. Boers interprets an usher’s unhelpful silence as: “What are you doing here, anyway? What, really, is your problem?”—when simply inquiring about the order of service and the use of hymnals.

Back in the village, where the next day—the “happiest moment of their lives”—11 families were about to take possession of their first real houses—celebration was already in the air. A lean-to pavilion for the ceremonies was covered with palm branches and colourful balloons. Rice, garden vegetables and barbecued chicken were being prepared in one of the “new” kitchens. Children literally squealed for joy at the thought of hitting open the papier mâché piñata following the big event.

Under the ceiba tree Sunday morning, the day after the ceremonies, our North American sponsor was surprised to learn that the farmers knew all about drip irrigation and had already enlisted the free training of the local USAID office in its implementation and use. They didn’t need a “water supervisor” to get maximum production. After all, they had worked together for a whole year in building their own houses, with no apparent conflict or “turf wars.” Their communal/survival living gave them far greater skills than earning a business degree at York University.

The North American contingent travelled back that rough road in stunned silence. Over breakfast in our air-conditioned restaurant we marvelled at the high level of love and spirituality we had just experienced, the ingenuity of the peasant workers, the content in their faces, the vision of the women who want only better schools and healthcare for their children, the spontaneity of the children who were surely loved unconditionally, and the wisdom of the elders who were listened to with focused attention—all without the social safety net we have come to expect in our highly-developed Canadian society.

 

Meet your board member

Tim Reimer, pastor of Danforth Mennonite Church, Toronto, Ont., was recently named to Canadian Mennonite’s 12-member board to represent Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, succeeding Larry Cornies of London, Ont. With his wife, LaVerna, Reimer has served with Mennonite Central Committee for eight years, first in Winnipeg, then in Berlin during the “fall of the wall” in the early 1990s. They are the parents of three adult children. He has taught Old Testament (sessionally) at Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ont., and continues teaching in other Bible schools. He believes Canadian Mennonite can “help the church learn about itself, its diversity and possibilities, as well as its limits and frontiers.” He can be reached at 416-265-4621 or via e-mail at Tim.Reimer@hotmail.com.

Tim Reimer

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