Last night I attended an event that blew me out of the water: the YouthSpeaks PoetrySlam Bay Area finals. Eighteen young poets poured out their hearts in verse. At the end of the night, only six advanced to the International Finals (July, in San Jose).These teens I heard last night (aged 15-19) have been through more pain in the last year than I have my whole life, and they have more passion in their little pinkies than I have in my whole heart. It was truly humbling.
It made me realize the things in my life I thought were important to me aren't nearly important enough. And it made me wonder -- to get passion like that maybe I need to go through more pain?
But then this morning I remembered something else. When I was in the Philippines while in the Navy I had the privilege of hanging out with a couple named Michael & Denise Vrooman who pastored the Calvary Chapel of Olongapo near the Subic Bay Naval Air Station.
Olongapo was just across a sewage river from the base. The Navy had put up high fences because too many kids had been getting sick from diving into the river chasing quarters thrown by sailors. Magsaysay drive was the main drag where a sailor could get alcohol, mystery-meat-on-a-stick, and some company for the night -- and maybe some other company that stayed with you for a few days until you went to the Docs and got a shot.
Mike & Denise are from Michigan originally, and they moved to Olongapo to give their lives away to people. Their congragation was made up of the hookers and bartenders from Magsaysay, and also others who made their living by picking out stuff from their "neighborhood" (they literally lived in the town dump) and reselling them or picking up cans and bottles out of the gutter and recycling them for pennies on the pound. I walked through the neighborhoods with Mike one Sunday after church, and met 4 or 5 of the families in his life.
They lived in one room tin-covered shacks. The kitchen was clay pots out front and the bathroom was the ditch out back. When they met me, they'd offer me whatever food they could and the only chair they had (if they had one).
On the way back to his house (not a lot nicer than theirs) I reflected to Mike "Wow, these people are so warm & welcoming. Their character has really been shaped by their poverty." Mike laughed at me.
I asked why and he said "Keith, they wouldn't see it that way. That shirt you're wearing probably cost more money than these families make in months, but they don't envy you. They just see you as being far more distracted than they are."
He laughed at me
All I got out of my mouth was "Yeah, but..." when he interrupted me:
"They have a roof when it rains, and food when they're hungry. They have their family and extended family close, and they have the community they're a part of. They're trusting God for day to day life, and they're seeing Him rescue people from generations of being hookers and bouncers. They have more than they could possibly want in life. You? You're just really distracted."
update -- according to Wikipedia, Olongapo has become a model community of sorts! Sweet -- see what happens when U.S. Imperialism backs away? Maybe there's hope for Iraq & Afghanistan yet...
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