This week I’m going to share a series of stories and reflections from my time spent studying abroad in Central America. These are excerpts from my memoir in progress; stories that have shaped me, shattered my pretenses and preset beliefs, and sculpted the way I live and love and encounter God today. I hope in some small way, you can relate and be challenged to reflect more deeply on the experiences that have influenced you and your faith.
Don Antonio, our program director, smirked like the Cheshire cat while pacing the small study abroad classroom in San Jose, Costa Rica. For the first day of class, he had proctored a little quiz to test our knowledge of global affairs.
We all failed miserably.
In this test we confirmed something we already knew—the world is not fair. But what we did not know, and our professors would continue to illuminate for the duration of the semester, was that all of this poverty and injustice and death and suffering was somehow our fault.
“You actually thought the United States had a positive influence on the world? You thought the Bush administration actually looks out for anyone other than big business and the multinational corporations?” he asked incredulously, assuming that we were rich, snotty kids who’d never had a hard day of work in their lives—which was a pretty accurate appraisal as we were all, with the exception of one Albanian student, Americans who used 80% of the world’s resources satiating our lust for SUVs and bottled water. Compared to the people of Costa Rica we weren’t poor college students, we were rich gringoswith ample financial and social opportunity.
That first day I learned startling and horrific statistics about global poverty and the horrendously unequal distribution of wealth. Twenty percent of the world’s population consumes 86% of the world’s resources. A child dies of hunger every five seconds. One billion people around the world live on less than a dollar a day. Statistics I’d heard, but never paid attention to. Statistics that never meant anything before. I was more ashamed of my ignorance than the miserable state of affairs in the world.
And that was the beginning of the breakdown.
Have you ever had your core beliefs about culture, politics, and your role in the world questioned or attacked? How did you react? How has that experience changed how you think and view the world now?