"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
The second session, after doing some basic leadership strategy work, focusses on global poverty -- what it is, what causes it, and what the church's role can be in eliminating it. The first two pieces are led by Josh Ruxin, who heads up the Millennium Villages Project in Mayange, Rwanda. I'll write more about Josh and some of his work and theories in the next couple days ... and I'm very hopeful of visiting him in Rwanda in the next year or so. But this morning I want to write about something else he is doing ... and an experience I had last week.
During our CLP sessions, we talk a lot about the Millennium Development Goals ... and Josh is the first person I've met whose main problem with the MDGs is that they're too small. He encourages us to think about the step after the MDGs ... and the step after that.
And he has some really good problems with the MDGs themselves. For example, there's nothing in the MDGs about family planning and population control. According to Josh, that was eliminated from the final MDG draft under intense pressure from the U.S. government and the Vatican (what was left is MDG 5 -- improve maternal health). He also takes issue with MDG #2 -- universal primary education.
Now, Josh doesn't think universal primary education is a bad thing ... only that it's a terrible standard. "It's a goal suitable for the 19th century, not the 21st century" is the line he uses ... and he's right. We are adopting a standard as acceptable for the extreme poor that would never be acceptable for us. It would be inconceivable to me if Schroedter and Hayden were to stop going to school after sixth grade. I know they need more than that to be able to realize their potential in the world. We know that our country needs more than that for its citizens for us to thrive as a nation.
Universal primary education should be a given. The goal should be universal primary and secondary education and higher education for anyone who wants it.
After hearing Josh say this, I was not surprised to hear that he had been spending time with Paul Farmer ... because this idea of one world, one standard is what Paul has based his whole life on.
Paul Farmer is the founder of Partners in Health (if you want a great read, check out "Mountains Beyond Mountains," by Tracy Kidder, which is basically Paul's biography), which started in Haiti and has since become an organization that spans three continents and has revolutionized approaches to public health (as well as being one of the most effective combatants against tuberculosis on the planet). He started going down to Haiti while he was at Harvard Medical School and based his work there on one principle:
Since I do not believe that there should be different recommendations for people living in the Bronx and people living in Manhattan, I am uncomfortable making different recommendations for my patients in Boston and in Haiti.
In other words, there should be one baseline of acceptable medical care. Not "Harvard acceptable" and "Haiti acceptable." One world. One standard.
I was not surprised to find that Josh and Paul are friends. As it turns out Paul is now living in Rwanda. Partners in Health has set up shop in a neighboring district to where Josh is and is offering high-quality medical care to anyone who needs it. And, unlike much of the aid/development industry, the MVP in Mayange and the PIH clinic are working together. The PIH medical professionals travel to Mayange to train health care workers there. The agricultural experts who work with MVP travel to the neighborhing district and teach what they know to the people there.
In a sense what Josh is doing is taking Paul Farmer's philosophy and applying on a broad level. If there is one world, one standard for medical care ... than it should be for other things, too -- like education.
And that's where Orphans of Rwanda comes in. Orphans of Rwanda is a partnership between PIH and Centre Memorial de Gisimba, an orphanage in Kigali. Josh serves on the board and his wife, Alissa, works tirelessly for them, too.
The concept is simple: Rwanda's future lies in making sure its best and brightest children get all the education and other help they need to realize the depth and breadth of their potential. Because of the terrible history of the Rwandan genocide, many of those children are in places like Centre Memorial de Gisimba, where they will never get those opportunities. That is not just to their poverty but to the poverty of the whole nation.
Orphans of Rwanda selects the best and brightest of these orphans and makes sure they get not only primary education but secondary education and college education as well. The stories are incredible. You can read one of them here. Orphans of Rwanda is literally building Rwanda's future one life at a time.
Anyway, Josh and I were talking a few weeks back (here's a great example of how small the world is. Josh and I can videoconference online free -- me in St. Louis, him in Kigali -- through Skype because we both have broadband internet. So every now and then we'll set up a conversation that has me getting up at 6 am -- which is around lunchtime for him) and he mentioned that he was going to have to leave West Cornwall right after his session on Wednesday because he was introducing Paul as the keynote speaker at a benefit for Orphans of Rwanda in Manhattan.
"Why don't you come?"
What an exciting invitation. How could I say no! So after the Wednesday session, we jump in a car and drive to Manhattan to this little club in the meat-packing district. It was about 350 people crammed into a space that, at least in the Midwest, would never hold that many people (though I imagine it was pretty standard for a downtown club). The average age was about 27, which was exciting. Lots of Columbia students. Several people from Rwanda. The club was owned by some Haitians, and when they found out that Paul was going to be there they donated not just the space and the hors d'oeuvres -- but the open bar as well. It was great seeing so much energy around something as wonderful as this.
Josh introduced Paul (and there was a mutual admiration society thing that went on for a bit), and then Paul went into his routine. And he is this great mixture of passion and humor. It's easy to talk about poverty in ways that make people depressed and guilty. The magic is when people talk about it in ways that fill you with hope and possibility ... and that's what he did.
Paul showed before and after pictures side by side on a big screen. One of them was a young boy who had been brought into his clinic in Haiti as a baby with HIV/AIDS. He said even the boy's grandmother was saying within earshot of the child that it was hopeless and that they should just let him die. But that wouldn't have been acceptable at Harvard so it wasn't acceptable in Haiti. They gave him the best care they possibly could. Got him the nutrition and the drugs and the education and everything that he needed. That was 20 or so years ago.
The picture next to the picture of that sickly baby told the rest of the story. A fine looking, strong young man standing next to someone in surgical scrubs. This was that boy 20 years later ... in medical school.
This is what is possible. Every child is God's image. Every child deserves every opportunity to let that image shine.
As I was walking toward the subway that night to catch the train to Brooklyn to Ian and Kathy's house, I kept remembering one passage of scripture, from John 12:
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
Judas sets up a false dichotomy here. Be extravagant in your worship OR help the poor. And a plain reading can be used (and has been used) to say "screw the poor, they're always going to be here anyway."
But I don't think that's what this is about. Scripture tells us that when we encounter the poor, we encounter Christ (Matthew 25) and that when we welcome a child, we welcome Christ (Mark 9). And this passage is telling us to be extravagant in our relationship with Christ. Shouldn't that mean we should be extravagant in our relationship to the poor.
When I think of Judas taking the perfume and selling it and giving the proceeds to the poor, the image that comes to my mind is a lot of money being spread over a lot of people so that everyone gets a little. That's our societal definition of charity -- giving just enough to survive.
But that's not what Christ is talking about. Christ is talking about extravagance. Christ is talking about the same standard by which you would treat your savior being the same standard by which you treat the poor. Excellence of care. Excellence of love. Excellence of opportunity.
That's what PIH and Orphans for Rwanda are about. That's what breaks us out of mindsets of charity from on high ... mindsets that I am convinced do nothing but perpetuate systems of poverty -- making it true that the poor will always be with us because we insist on treating "poor people" poorly.
This doesn't mean "a big screen HDTV" in every living room. More likely it probably means none of them in ANY living room. It's about saying there is one standard of excellence for all of humanity. And I need to look so carefully at where I go above it. And I need to stop myself before I decide that "good enough" still leaves others below it.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."