Let’s get our hands dirty!
No, I don’t mean compromising your moral principles or turning a blind eye to things you know aren’t right. This is what I mean: servant-hood, putting others first, toiling with joy.
Getting our hands dirty (at least for me) means dreaming big for something outside of you. It’s dreaming big for a community, for a society, and even for the world.
I met this particular world-changer online, while trekking the blogosphere for people who are making a difference in other people’s lives. She has been an absolute joy to correspond with, and has been so helpful and kind and generous with herself. I am absolutely thrilled to introduce to you KATIE GARD, who – in an effort to change the world – found herself in our beloved Philippines.
Katie Gard was in 2nd grade when her teacher explained that if the logging industry, and slash-and-burn farming kept up their current pace, rain forests would soon be non-existent for her future grandchildren. Shocked, young Katie became determined to be the kind of person who grows up doing something about these destructive systems. She was determined not to stand around as these systems perpetuate.
Fast-forward to college, Katie came across this quote by theologian Frederick Buechner:
“Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.”
“Finding this didn’t narrow down the selection much for me,” she says, “but I began asking God about His personality – to show me what some of His greatest passions are, and where He sees the world’s greatest needs are.”
She then went on attending a conference that solidified her understanding of Christians doing holistic ministry, helping create alternatives to the malfunctioning systems in the society that leave people destitute and without options.
“Words like ‘sustainable development’, ‘empowerment’, and ‘ownership’ were my big take-homes that year – along with a lot of flyers from organizations like MCC, Micah Challenge, and Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor that are making a positive change in our world,” she continues, “I read a book by Scott Bessenecker called The New Friars, and I was hooked.”
Step into Development
Upon college graduation, Katie went on to Brazil for a missions trip, and there she was amazed by how her new Brazilian friends were so fit to minister in their home context. (“They didn’t need to learn the language or culture. They didn’t even need to be funded, they just served where they were.”)
By the time she returned home, Katie knew that she wanted to experience community development in the local level before going international. That said, she stayed 2 more years with her parents building up her experience in coordinating kids’ community service projects. She then heard about the MATUL (MA in Transformational Urban Leadership) degree at Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles, USA.
“I knew that if I wanted to address poverty outside of the US, I would have to learn a lot more about it first — from the perspectives of people I aimed to work with. And what better way than to go live in a neighborhood defined (by the materially secure) as ‘impoverished.’ That’s what MATUL sends you to do. So for two years, I got to live in an informal settlement in Quezon City, Metro Manila. And that became my second home — a place I felt so welcomed by the warm hospitality of Filipino people, a place I questioned my own assumptions about values and culture, and a place I belong. Tahanan ko na iyan; Fil-Am na ako, haha.”
Doesn’t she know that foreigners who try to speak in our native tongue immediately win all sorts of hearts?
But of course, even when we think we’re on the right track, it’s not always rainbows and unicorns. Katie was a bit struck with how her new neighbors – though lacking in material goods – seemed to be quite content, and not really interested in changing their living situation.
The Posture of a Learner
Instead of pointing out what should change, though, Katie wisely adopted the posture of a learner, and listened to what her neighbors and urban poor church-mates were concerned about. Her new Filipino friends were actually much more concerned about making lasting relationships, taking it easy, celebrating, and supporting each other. Thoughts of ‘getting ahead’ in the world and working towards a ‘better’ or more ‘financially secure’ future weren’t priorities.
As much as this was refreshing for Katie, soon enough, the down-side became glaringly apparent.
“When a friend or relative would unexpectedly fall ill, families rarely had saved up an ‘emergency fund’ to draw from to pay the bills.”
The typical ‘banking system’ among the urban poor, she discovered, was investing in friends or relatives by giving financially each time one of them had a need. They trust that when it was their time of need, the same people would then return the favor. This sounds very ‘utang na loob’ doesn’t it?
Katie then shares about the time when the ‘utang na loob’ system isn’t enough to go around, and some families are then forced to sell their only means of livelihood or borrow money at an impossible interest, which will then trap them into a ferocious cycle of debt. As she worked here in Manila, Katie must have experienced great frustrations and victories, but the young woman is resilient, open, and earnest in her faith.
“It bothers me that [some] people would take advantage of those who aren’t thinking long-term, who are only thinking of what they need to do to get by this month – and that those who are being taken advantage of aren’t always pro-active about calculating how to get out of debt,” she shares candidly, “Granted, I still see this situation through my American lens of valuing being debt free. It could be that I still have more to learn. There’s just still so much I don’t know about the culture, but it’s been such a nice challenge to get to propose an improved alternative, and try it out! And I’ve learned so much through it, about how I assume people would react (according to my cultural norms) vs. what actually happens.”
After leaving to return to her hometown in Minnesota, Katie was happy to report that her Filipino friends have been reflecting on their conversations while she was still with them, and several have decided to start their own emergency fund, pooling their own money, and saving up for emergencies, so they won’t be forced to pawning or borrowing at interest.
Way to go!
The Best Role
What I love about Katie is that she’s not on a moral high horse. I’ve asked her to share some insights she’s gained while working in the field, and here’s some of my favorites (get your pen and paper out!):
- Don’t use your own ‘standard of living’ to make assumptions about what people from another culture want or need.
- Find it out by listening and engaging the culture & language.
- Build deeply-rooted friendships!
- The inner-workings of a culture or community cannot be found out by studying it from the outside – go ahead and live in it!
She then further explains to me her role:
“Sometimes the best role of a foreigner is to be (1) an encourager, (getting to know people and pointing out their strengths) (2) a catalyst, (introducing new ideas & conversations to move people from a problem they identify to a solution that works for them) or (3) a networker (connecting them with people & resources that can help them push forward & accomplish their dreams).”
Don’t you love how much she believes in earnest that Filipinos can do it?
Katie, you are an empowerer! =)
I want to do something, too!
Take the floor, Katie! =D What if we’re not at liberty to do the things you’ve done? What if I’m a student with a very busy schedule? What if I work long hours and can’t give my time and services? What then?
- Take a moment to smile at people and encourage them.
- Pack a healthy snack in your purse when you ride a bus or jeepney, because if someone asks you for money, you don’t know where that money is going, and if it will really benefit the one asking, but you can’t go wrong with a banana or whole-grain SkyFlakes. :)
- Pray that God will give you little opportunities to do good, and then follow through when you feel the Holy Spirit nudging you to do or say something.
But if you do ever find the time…
- Take a moment to talk with a person you run into who is asking you for money. What do they really want for their futures? Are they content to always be asking, or do they want a job? (Some do, some don’t.) Generally, don’t just give money — even if their story is convincing — that won’t help long term. (That’s like the proverb of giving a man a fish but not equipping him to fish for himself.) In some cases, you’ll find someone who genuinely wants to try to turn their life around, and investing your time and effort into nurturing them is so worth it.
Wrap up: What makes you a world-changer?
I am a Jesus-follower, to the best of my ability, and that is why I am changing the world for good.
~ Katie Gard <3
I can’t wait to meet more people like Katie!
Here’s a tip of the hat to world changers!