Keith’s Sabbatical Journal — Timothy’s Reflections

IN HIS OWN WORDS
an interview with Timothy Wasserman about the Rite of Passage Trip.

How are you feeling about the rite of passage trip so far?
I am enjoying most of it. I believe it is a good experience so far. Australia is very enjoyable. South Africa was pretty nice too.

You left out Romania. Was there a problem there?
No, but as a whole not all of our family enjoyed it all the time. The conditions were a little too stressing to call it my favorite. Sorry Romania.

Do you think the experiences you have had have changed you and if so, how do you think you may have changed?
I am certainly not going to waste as much water now that I see how water is such a gift. I’m trying to eat everything that I am fed because I am seeing how some people would cherish that and that some people have nothing. It’s also that I’m getting bigger appetites but you don’t have to include that, you can just make me look like a saint. I think I will also be a little more active in programs helping people in other countries like Samaritan’s Purse. But unfortunately, Samaritan’s Purse has become a lot more of an organization (institutionalized) but I still believe they are a great group of people and a great operation.

How was seeing the children in these different countries affected you?
As I said before, I will probably want to become more active in Samaritan.s Purse kind of things and I find myself a little less materialized.

What does “rite of passage” mean to you?
Giving the boy the information not always the way that feels good but the way he will need to have it to survive. Therefore, we as Christians should help our boys become men and have the information for us to become good Christian people. It means showing me different cultures to open my eyes and open a lens to see the poor. I’ve heard about them and read about them but it is not enough just to do that and it is not just enough just to go there and see the people and hand out food and leave. I think it is important to create one on one relationships with these people and try to understand what life is like for them in their view. We just visited a country that recently dealt with apartide and communism.

We have now been to eight different countries in the past 10 months (USA, Canada, England, Holland, South Africa, Romania and Australia) and have seen the poorest of the poor in each place. What has stuck with you so far?
That England’s poor is nothing compared to South Africa’s poor. And that Australia’s poor is often better off than Romania’s poor. I know Australia has some poverty issues. In South Africa, we had a lot of great interaction with the poor and I enjoyed this. The set up we had there was great in terms of the conditions we stayed in. Ron and Joanna were great hosts and sacrificed quite a bit for us to take us around and hang out with us.

What has impressed you from our bible studies on the poor and our readings from Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider?
That Americans, 90% of our grain goes toward cattle for meat production. If we could use that grain to feed other countries, we could practically feed the world. I am struck by how much money we have in the US and how the wealth is distributed. The top 20% hold 90% of all the money. The top five billionaires in the world could use all of their money to end the debt of nations who owe the US money.

What does this reveal about the American culture to you?
That we are very materialistic and I feel we don’t have a lot of care for people for other countries. The church in the US needs to start taking action. Some people have and I’m proud of those people.

What kind of action could people in your age group take to help the poor internationally?
Eat less Hamburgers. Operation Christmas Child and Samaritan’s Purse are great ways to enlighten a child for a short time and give them something they won’t forget but sponsoring a child thru Compassion International or maybe even converting your allowance or asking your parents to adopt one or more kids is much more enjoyable and better for the kids because you are providing for their needs.

Let’s put the cost in perspective of sponsoring a child. Can you say something about that?
Sponsoring a child is not expensive. It is around $7.00 a week or $28.00 a month. That is less money than most average American families are spending on their cell phones or cable each month. And I believe that giving that money is worth it because it will change a child’s life forever. This kind of enjoyment doesn’t go away after you get something. I think it worth $100.00 a month to sponsor a child because of the enjoyment it gives you providing for these children’s needs and helping them become strong and able to provide for themselves.

What other message would you give to teens about helping the poor in the world today?
That helping the poor is a good experience and that it gives you an enjoyment that is different than getting something new and doing something materialistic.

Will Christmas have a different meaning to you this year?
Yes, I mean I have not really thought much about Christmas and I guess I will still want things for Christmas (unfortunately) but I don’t think I will be as devoted that Christmas will make me happy if I get things and that I need things to make me happy. I know now that this is not where real enjoyment comes from. Even though earthly things can satisfy for a time, only God can satisfy eternally.

You do a Bible study every day. What is your sense of what the Bible says about God’s view of the poor?
Help the poor. One verse we often forget is Proverbs 31:6-7. “Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish. Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.” I don’t believe this is saying to give alcohol to the poor and perishing because I can understand the dangers and destructions of alcohol. But that we should give pleasurable relief to the poor and needy and the perishing. God wants his people to help the poor which I don’t believe is just a cold cup of water. Have you heard the Ambulance driver’s story from Ron Sider’s book? If not, here it is.

A STORY ABOUT SYSTEMIC SIN
(From Rich Christians, page 223-224)

A group of devout Christians once lived in a small village at the foot of a mountain. A winding, slippery road with hairpin curves and steep precipices wound its way up one side of the mountain and down the other. There were no guardrails, and fatal accidents were frequent. The Christians in the village’s three churches decided to act. They pooled their resources and purchased an ambulance to they could rush the injured to the hospital in the next down. Week after week, church volunteers gave faithfully, even sacrificially, of their time to operate the ambulance twenty four hours a day. They saved many lives, although some victims remained crippled for life.
One day a visitor came to town. Puzzled, he asked why they did not close the road over the mountain and build a tunnel instead. Startled, the ambulance volunteers quickly pointed out that this approach, though technically possible, was not realistic or advisable. After all, the narrow mountain road had been therefore a long time. Besides, the mayor would bitterly oppose the idea. (He owned a large restaurant and service station halfway up the mountain.) The visitor was shocked that the mayor’s economic interests mattered more to these Christians than the many human casualties. Somewhat hesitantly, he suggested that perhaps the churches ought to speak to the mayor. After all, he was an elder in the oldest church in town. Perhaps they should even elect a different mayor if he proved stubborn and unconcerned.
Now the Christians were shocked. With rising indignation and righteous conviction they informed the young radical that the church dare not become involved in politics. The church is called to preach the gospel and give a cup of cold water, they said. Its mission is not to dabble in worldly things like changing social and political structures.
Perplexed and bitter, the visitor left. As he wandered out of the village, one question churned in his muddled mind. Is it really more spiritual, he wondered, to operate ambulances that pick up the bloody victims of destructive social structures than to try to change the structures themselves?

Sider asks a good question: Which is more spiritual? To rescue and help those people who have been harmed from the unjust system or to work to change the system? I believe the story is calling us not only just to help the poor with money and relief but also help them in the political statuses that are wrong. I’ve been reading in Rich Christians that sometimes the sin we commit is that we live in an evil social system and we don’t try to change it. I believe it is important to look into this and not just make assumptions about people. If you are reading this, please don’t feel offended about sinning but please read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Jesus himself sought to change the evil system that came out of the Jewish leadership in the New Testament and he was trying to stop the evil social system that had come up in the temple and the government. Therefore, I believe he calls his followers to do the same.

Are children in Romania different from children in the USA, and if so, how?
They are poorer. A lot of them beg. Many of them are abused because their parents drink alcohol. There is a large percent of the street children who sniff glue which slowly kills their brain cells. When we first arrived, were waiting in a restaurant there was a whole group of boys sniffing glue. I often saw kids putting a bag over their mouth and nose to breath in it for a period of time.

What was it like hanging out with kids who didn’t have access to electronic games?
They did. They went to arcades. It was interesting. I didn’t notice too much of a big difference but they seemed to have a lot more different ways that they entertained themselves.

While in Romania, you had an opportunity to help Joel Klepac work around the house. What is he doing there and what did you do?
We pretty much destroyed a room’s ceiling and put up drywall guides and started putting up drywall and painted. Joel is trying to paint rooms and get things looking nice and get the process going to be ready to house street boys.

What was the highlight of your time in Romania?
Probably just hanging out with the street kids.

You also worked with mom in the garden at the drop in center. What did you do there and why did you do it?
We removed the old plants to get ready for winter and to prepare the soil for spring of the next year. The plants were not going to grow anymore.

What did you discover about Romania that you liked?
I liked the bread. It was good and cheap. A lot of foods like mountain dew and coke are cheaper there then in the US.

What about the people of Romania?
A lot of them have small farms on these small pieces of land they have horses and chickens even though they have barely any room.

Talk about your experience when you visited Vali’s family in a small Romanian village?
We went to Vali’s parents’ house (Vali was the director of the Drop in Center operated by Word Made Flesh) and saw their animals (chickens, rabbits and a horse). The definitely live a lot lower than we do. There was a big difference in wealth compared to how most people in the states live. They had a well for their water and an outhouse. Their house was among more than 100 houses in the village.

What was the primary religious view of most Romanians?
They were orthodox and some were very superstitious.

What did you notice about orthodox Christians?
They seemed more ‘traditional’ and some branches of it are very superstitious.

You went to an Orthodox Church. What do you remember about being there?
There were a lot of icons on the walls. There were no seats except for those on the outside of the church building. For most of the service (which lasted several hours) people would stand. Most people gave the seats around the outer edges of the church building to the elderly. I enjoyed the worship service, being able to look at the Icons.

What about the icons, what were they about?
A lot of them were different stories of Jesus like feeding for four thousand, coming in on the donkey and Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist. Icons are the Orthodox church’s way of remembering Jesus. Different parts of Christianity have different ways and views of doing that. A lot of their icons have Mary in them showing her being great. I don’t believe many protestant churches believe Mary was all that great.

What did you notice about family life in Romania?
Families usually stay together in the same house and are close and connected. People usually didn’t move far away from their family. Even grown children stay at home until they get married. Sometimes, they even stay at home after they get married. In US culture, kids grow up, go off to college, get a job, get married, get a house, get a family and get a big screen TV get a raise and work until they retire and then migrate to Florida. Kids, when they grow up, they move away to find work. In the US, people can afford the cost of transportation to come back and visit their families. In Romania, they can’t afford that (the average wage in Romania is $100.00 US dollars each month)

Can you share your impressions of poverty in Romania as compared to South Africa?
South Africa’s poverty is much worse. A lot of those who are poor are dying and suffering from AIDS. They are almost stuck poor, they have very limited employment and there are few tourists’ areas to beg in. A lot of them suffer and die of AIDS

If you could give a talk to other teens on the situation with the poor in the world today, what would be one thought you’d like to leave them with?
That most of you have it good. If you try to live in the conditions that many of the poor did, all the things you throw out suddenly become very appetizing. People who have no jobs, no food and who live on mealy meal (corn meal) for all of their lives would consider that slightly bad potatoes as great “find” and moldy cheese would be considered a great delicacy. Just because it seems like such a big issues, it doesn’t mean that people like us can’t make a difference. I think that it is important for every teen to be able to see poverty in extreme situations because it can foster a good change in them to help see the poor. I think we need to see the poor before we can serve the poor.

There once was a man working in a radar tower at a large airport. These guys work on their computers looking at little blips on the screen all day. One of these guys who had been working there for twenty years was going to be transferred to another airport and he had to go by plane. As they are boarding, the other passengers see the radar guy looking out the window of the airport looking at the airplanes in awe and wonder. Some of the people asked him “you are the radar guy, haven’t you seen airplanes before, you work her every day”? The man had never really seen what he was controlling or doing. He just saw blips on a screen.

When we are serving the poor, we don’t want them to become an every day act. We need to be able to see who we are working with. They can’t just be a nameless, faceless person if you really want to do ministry with them. You have to “hang out with them” as my Dad says to really be able to help them.

What are you learning these days from the Rich Christians Book?
I’m learning about the economic differences and about social injustices that cause the poor countries (developing nations) to become poor and the rich countries to become richer. I am learning how some of the rich countries are taking away and destroying some of the ways the poor make food. Some poor countries do not have the technology needed and the rich countries often will not provide it for them. For example, many older refrigerators have fluids with in them that damage the ozone and countries like Russia can not afford to replace them. When voted for, it took a long time for some of the rich countries (like the US) to lend them the technology and provide money to help replace the system. I am also learning about the debt crisis. Many countries (especially in Africa) are in deep serious debt with the US that they most likely will never be able to repay. In some case they spend more money on debt repayment than they are on education and health. “Must we stave our people to repay our debt”. A lot of debt was caused because banks in the US started lending out money during the oil boom to countries without asking the proper criteria questions like how it was going to be used. In one country (Kenya), they created a program which displaced twenty thousand people, cost 100 million dollars and was never used.

By far, South Africa is the place where we saw the most desperate situations of poverty that either of us has seen in our lives. How do you think this will affect your view of the world or of money or material possessions when you return home?
Even after seeing Australia, I want to conserve water more. I see that we have a lot more especially food wise compared to a lot of people and I’ve been used to being told this but now I can actually see it. I see that every penny counts for many of the people of South Africa and they don’t throw away things if they know they can be used.

Will you have a different view of Christmas this year?
I have not really given Christmas much thought. I guess I’m not wanting as many things. I have not really thought about it.

How are you feeling about going back to the US and Athens?
I have mixed feelings because I am going to be happy to see all of my friends again but I am sure I am going to miss all of the friends we have made here (Australia) and in all of the other countries. I know I am going to have a few different views about living life and this is going to be interesting going back right at Christmas time.

Do you think differently about money than you did a year ago?
I don’t feel like throwing money into those little pools for good luck. I guess I see the fact that I am richer than many people. I feel more inclined to sponsor a child or help contribute to funds like that. Now that I’ve seen some of the conditions that these children and people have to live in, it has pushed me to want to take some action.

What would you say to kids in Ohio who have not seen what you have seen?
Well, first of all I’d say that seeing poverty is different than hearing about it. Until you see it, I don’t believe you can fully understand. Even then, you must be among the people who are suffering just to get an idea of what their lifestyle is like. I would say that we live in a very fortunate country and place and that they need to realize that there are many things that even as kids we can do to help people in poor countries. Talking with someone who has seen poverty can make a difference. I would tell kids that it is almost another world. It is so different. In Romania, among the poor, the culture is not as demanding of buying new things. There is not as much of a push to go out and buy something new. It is more “stay alive and have friendships”. In South Africa I notice that there was a lot of connection between people. Everyone was not competing to have a new car. I guess I’m trying to say most of the people we met could not afford to go out and buy new things so there is not as much competition between people for being richer. That allows them to socialize among each other better.

How do you think western culture influenced the cultures of the countries we have been visiting?
Most of the TV shows are American TV shows which are dubbed or sub titled. I see how some of the children try to copy off the movies they see. I once saw some older boys speaking English in Romania but it was English they learned from the movies. You can guess that what they said wasn’t too pleasant. I don’t think they knew what they were saying.

You have been hearing things about the USA from the point of view of the English, South Africans, the Dutch, the Romanians and now the Australians. What kind of things are you hearing?
I’m hearing that we are rich, war supporting Americans who don’t really care much for what happens in other countries as a result of what we are doing. They think we all support George Bush. I’ve had a kid think that the person on the front of the one dollar bill was George Bush. I had to correct him and explain it was George Washington, our first President (not that we know who any of the people are on their money).

In every place we have visited, we have seen the amazing body of Christ welcome us and care for us. How has this impacted you and will this change the way you welcome others who are visiting our home?
Good question. Yes. A lot of these people have taken us in with open arms not really know much about us personally, just welcoming us into their household and caring for us. I believe I will want to host guests coming into our house as warmly.

How has your understanding of the gospel and Christianity changed during the past year?
I’ve started to take more notice of the parts of the Bible that are talking of God’s concern for the poor. I think I have seen God’s desire for us to care for the poor much more.

What has been your most positive experience on the trip so far?
South Africa because of the great experiences we had there with the poor and the hospitality of our hosts there. I guess it was positive because the experience was extreme. We had a lot of one on one relationships and talking with some of the very poor and needy people. This gave me a different lens and view of the poor and a different way of seeing poor people. Seeing that the poor in the US would be rich in these countries compared to the poor there. I also saw that the people there were very similar to us and if you get to know some of these people personally and spend time with them, you can feel as if they are on the same level as you are. These people are special in their own way.

How about sharing the most difficult part of the trip?
The most difficult part of the trip have been the plane trips. These have been the most stressful. London for me was difficult because of all the walking and site seeing we did compared to having time with the people.

Do you think your relationship with your mom and dad has changed this year?
Yes. I’d say that as a family we have become a little closer together and have had more time to spend together. Unfortunately, when we get back to Athens and if my mom gets the job at the West Library, it may mean me doing a lot of stuff by myself for school. I think that we all, seeing each other in the grumpiest moods and that because we have been together and been able to help each other with our moods.

Can you share something about living in Australia right now?
It is a very nice set up and I am enjoying it. We are in Melbourne. I like how the cities are set up. They all have big parks and reserves in the city. This allows there to be places where nature can live. There are huge flower gardens, parks, a couple of reserves and there is even a huge butterfly flower park.

How do you like Australia so far?
I love it mate! I like the weather. Even though it gets hot, I like the weather and I like the feel and the attitude here. I wouldn’t mind moving and living here. The people are very nice and kind here. I’d like to come back here.

What part of American culture are you NOT looking forward to?
Well, I’m not going to enjoy the clothing culture and I guess I won’t like the culture that demands you to buy new things to be cool (even though we are kinda in that right now). I went to the pool the other day and all the boys wear swim trunks and almost all the girls are wear swimming trucks over their one piece swimming suits so that nothing is revealing. All the girls in the US wear tiny two piece suits. The girls here are not as revealing. I went to a large pool and only saw one person wearing speedo (a brand).

If you had to do the whole trip over again, would you request to do anything differently?
Yes. I would like to spend more time in South Africa, Australia and Romania and maybe not so much in London. When we were in SA, we were having time and we were really able to relate to the people.

Do you think you will take your son on a rite of passage trip when he turns 13?
Yes I will.

GOD’S SQUAD EXPERIENCE

We are now with John Smith and his organization, the God’s Squad. What have you learned about the God’s Squad so far?
They are a group of Christian bikers who minister to primarily a lot of the other biker gangs. They are kind of like a club, like Rotary, except the people are more one-on-one interconnected friends.

What do you know about the organization? What has been your impression of the men you have met?
All of them are very on fire for God and a lot of them seem to be older (late 30s). Fox is the youngest one there. They all have nicknames. Johns is Bullfrog because he is the loudest frog in the pond. Oscar, Gramps, Fossil, Buba and Rocky were some of the others men I’ve met.

You just witnessed a ceremony of some kind. What did they do there?
They had some of the guys who were nominees to become part of the club, these men received their colors. They also gave out the Broken Branch award which is to the people who do the most stupid things.

Why would a man want to join the God’s Squad in your opinion?
Because if is a group of fellow men who like to bike and who love serving God thru their love of biking.

Last night we went to another motorcycle club Odin’s Warriors. What was that like?
It was very “clubby”. It was an outlaw club. They looked like an outlaw club. In the states, we might call them a gang. I just talked, ate and played pool. They did a lot of work painting the walls.

What in your view is the Christian Witness of the God’s Squad?
The fact that a lot of these guys at one time were not Christians and were bikers and were a part of these gangs and how God got a hold of them. The GS doesn’t want to be preachy but they go and hang out with the outlaw groups and talk to them.

You had a chance to ride with John on the back of his bike for several hours. What was that like?
You can see the sites a lot better, there was music but it was kind of hard sitting there for a long time.

This concludes this interview. If you would like to write Tim an e-mail, you can write him at timothy@good-works.net