Saturday, 16 September 2017

How to cope with serving in poor stricken areas?

First, let me say not all of Ecuador is as poor as where we are right now. You can find areas that are a little better off.  So please don't freak out while reading this post, you might not ever encounter the things discussed here. Yet, if you’re wondering how you would cope with an assignment in a poorer area this post is for you.

We’ve had this question asked many times since we arrived here in Recreo(Sector), Duran(City), Guayas(State/Province). It's taken us a while to write about this because I wanted to write from experience and the truth was that when we first moved, we didn’t have any. I don't think there's a straight answer for this. You learn to deal with it as you go, not to mention everyone is different and may handle it differently. However, this is what we've experienced in the 2.5 years we've served here; we hope it helps others.

When we first arrived, I was shocked and felt overwhelmed by it all. I’ve never served in an area that was this poor, but the excitement of our new assignment helped us see beyond all the negative things around us. We came here to be of use, to serve and we were more than happy to learn from our new Congregation. I thought as time went by it would become easier, that didn’t happen. As the months went by and we got to know our brothers and sisters and their stories, it started to become more difficult. I think with the passing of time it becomes more a question of endurance. How to endure in these areas?

The fact is that there's very little we can do to better the situation of those around us. This is hard to bear. Just to get you to imagine what it is like, not everyone has the necessities we take for granted, like water.

Most parts of Recreo will only get water a few days a week, so it’s a massive issue trying to fill cisterns or large containers with water. The main water pipes are located on the main streets. To get water, every second or third day, people will connect their own pump to the water main and run a long hose along with an electric cable above ground back to their own house. They will then pump the water until their tanks are full, disconnect everything and take it home so no one steals their pump.

Now imagine, running out of water every week. Shower’s, washing and toilets become difficult to manage. Incredibly people end up paying more for water here than in the more established areas of Ecuador. The areas without main water pipes rely on water trucks that pass by daily. These will fill the homeowners 44-gallon drums or water tanks at a cost of 80 cents roughly, however, these may only last a day or two with a family. They will end up paying close to $30 a month for water while many in Ecuador pay only $5 for running water in their home. That’s how unfair the world is.
Half of the dwellings in our territory are made out of bamboo and cane. Most of these structures seem worn out and look like they are falling apart. Then there's the constant flooding during the rainy season. Many have electrical appliances on stilts. I didn't understand why until the first flooding. Few can afford or bother with air conditioning. Houses have openings at the top of the walls where the ceiling meet for ventilation.  Since the houses are not well sealed to the outside elements, they have issues with insects, dust, and mold.

A little girl was asked what kind of a house she wanted in the new world. She replied “one made of concrete” oh, my heart stopped for a little while, trying to process the answer. That was her opinion of comfort. One that didn’t flood or have gaps in the walls!

The streets are full of dirt and rubbish. Although rubbish is collected, there are no garbage bins. Everyone leaves their garbage bags on the corners of the streets and it all piles up until the garbage men picks it up off the ground and throws into the truck when it passes.

The poorest part of our territory used to be a large rubbish tip, once it was filled and covered over people invaded these areas and just started to live here. You can imagine the issues this has caused, particularly with their health. The roads are not paved or concreted causing a lot of dust in summer, while in winter it will flood.

There are dogs and cats everywhere! People let them go outside the house to use the streets as public toilets. It breaks my heart seeing an animal mistreated, not cared for, starving and diseased. I wished I could take them all home and give them a better life.  Some dogs and cats smell the left overs in the rubbish bags and because they are so hungry will rip the bags apart. You often see them all dirty eating rotten food. The hardest thing is to look away, there’s nothing you can do for them, and that’s so hard to do. There have been times out witnessing I’ve had to move away from the door because my eyes are teary and I’m clearly upset by what I’m seeing. It makes us appreciate what the bible says, even more, when it talks about bringing to ruin those ruining the earth and even how Jehovah must feel seeing the animals suffer too.

The lack of interest by the Government in these areas affect the education system in place. People aren’t really taught about basic hygiene or privacy. This is something that you would actually address with a student during their study, teaching them that our Holy God, Jehovah desires us to be clean and what that means in a very practical way, like washing their hands with soap after they used the bathroom, getting a bucket of water to flush the toilet after they've used it, and so on. Quite a lot of the houses don’t have separate rooms, it’s one big open area inside, and everyone has their beds spread around. If there are rooms or even bathrooms they might only be separated by a curtain, not a door and sometimes extended families live together. You can imagine the issues and dangers it raises especially to children. 

Yes, this world is rotten to its core! And when you serve in these areas you hear of stories that will make you cringe. The worst thing is the feeling of uselessness that it can bring on.

As I’m writing this, it’s taken me a couple of days to finish it.  I have had to stop and come back to it when it starts to overwhelm me, as it stirs a lot of emotions of our time here. Saying it’s been tough is an understatement, yet, I’m amazed at how we coped, I never imagined I could, but we have.

In our opinion, when you grow up in these types of areas, this is normal life! You might be unaware of the poverty around you since this is what you've seen most of your life, this is what you’re used to. However, for those who haven't grown up in these areas, it can be especially hard to see everything that goes on.

We live in a comfortable home in a gated community about 5 minutes by car from the territory.  We decided to live here because of the advice we were given by our CO to think about our safety since our territory is not so safe for people who look like Jeremy. Living outside the territory wasn’t easy, and at times it made us feel like outsiders. We struggled driving home, feeling so guilty about our comforts… How dare we live in the comfort of air conditioning, all dry, without mosquitoes all around us while my brothers and sisters lived in very humble basic homes. It made us wonder if we were being materialistic having all these comforts.

These feelings were in our heads not caused by anyone but ourselves, and it took us a while to fight through these negative thoughts.

We don’t want to discourage anyone from serving in these areas! People here need to learn the truth! And our amazing brothers and sister who live here need support. These congregations will always have a need and once you’ve learned to cope, the satisfaction and joy Jehovah provides are more than we can express. We quickly realized our point of view of our assignment, territory, and congregation had to change. We had to stop being, so culture shocked and accept this was life in this world.

So what did we do?? Nothing incredible or out of this world, we concentrated on filling ourselves up spiritually more than we had previously. We were giving more and needed to take on more spiritual food.

We needed to persevere in prayer and tell Jehovah exactly what we were feeling. All the guilt, uselessness, and sadness we poured it all out in prayer. Jehovah helped us with peace of mind and clarity of thought. We often discussed Habakkuk or others who previously felt this way and how Jehovah understood their feelings.

The way we felt wasn’t necessarily bad, but we needed to turn it into something positive.  We couldn’t concentrate on what we couldn’t do but look for things that we could do.  Encouragement and love are what our brothers need most, and that’s what we aimed to provide them. They needed to feel loved and listened to, so we tried to remind them how important they were to us, to Jehovah and how much Jehovah loved them.

Whenever I had to hear a painful story, I would take time afterward to build myself up too. I concentrated on modern day experiences of Jehovahs people who had been through something similar and made an effort to share them with others.

Personally, before going out witnessing, I asked Jehovah to help me with whatever I saw in the field, and when I encountered scenes where all I could do was look away, I prayed in my mind and imagined all the beautiful things Jehovah will do for his creation. I asked Jehovah always to remind me that he has already taken steps to better this world and that it wasn’t up to me to fix the issues of this system.

The first time I saw the original song Imagine the Time from broadcasting, I couldn’t stop crying. It felt like Jehovah was addressing what I’d been feeling.

In line with that, I tried to keep my focus on the Kingdom message in the field and my congregation as the solution to all the suffering. I made an effort never to give my personal opinion but tried to use bible principles and bible accounts so that those asking for advice knew that they could find Jehovahs guidance in his word.  

We also learned from the resilience of our brothers and sisters. They're amazing people who have come to survive on very little. Instead of pitying them for what they lack, learn from them. There will come a time when we will go without.... without food, money, safety.... learn how they cope on very little and try to imitate their faith and zeal for Jehovah to provide and look after them. Never make them feel like they are lacking, respect their dignity and understand that sometimes they’ll see things differently than we will, it’s not wrong, just different, and learning from those differences enriches us.

We have an amazing brotherhood. It’s unlike any other we’ve seen trying to help the poor in these areas. Other organizations try to solve their short term problems, but Jehovah’s organization teaches us a way of life that will lead to everlasting life.  Jehovah educates us so well, and you can see the difference from the world and our beautiful brothers and sisters whose homes they aim to keep clean and tidy despite their poor conditions. I have come to have a deep respect for our brothers and sisters in these areas, seeing them smiling at the Kingdom Hall despite all their suffering and stress is an excellent example of endurance.

Our relationship with Jehovah has deepened, I feel closer to him like there’s a deeper emotional connection to him because of all the emotional turmoil I’ve had to overcome. I don’t know how else to explain it… but I’m so thankful that we made ourselves available and have been taught by Jehovah and his organization to cope in such areas as these.

We can't wait to see all things new and when no one has to stress about what they will eat. When all their sad stories will be forgotten until all they remember is just the good and wonderful things that Jehovah will provide. 

In the end, this has just been our personal experience and what we have experienced and learned. Our hope is that it helps you to be prepared and cope if you are thinking about coming to serve where the need is greater. Jehovah understands our limitations better than we do, so we have discovered that with his help, we were able to do more than what we ever thought we could.

Perhaps the thought that has helped us cope the most, is remembering that every bad or sad thing we have seen and experienced is only temporary and very soon it will all come to an end. Until then we have been blessed to witness to people who are truly in need both spiritually and physically of Jehovahs Kingdom. So when Jehovah's day comes, we will be proud to stand among our humble brothers and sisters from these poorer areas and celebrate the end of poverty!