Saturday, April 17, 2010

In Praise of Band-Aids

This may come as a shock, but there are some people who are very critical about us building houses for the poor in Tijuana. It's not because they despise poor people, or think the poor are just getting some sort of karma-influenced "way things are". Their logic is that providing houses for desperately poor people is a huge mistake because -- wait for it -- it's "only a band-aid solution".

Try telling that to the family that was living in a ramshackle collection of tarps and scavenged bits of wood, but now has some dignity, protection from the elements (40% of respiratory illnesses and diarrhea are avoided by simply having concrete instead of dirt for a floor), and a place to call "home" as they raise their children.

And the other side of that coin is the simple observation of "Yes, we know that this is only the tip of the iceberg, if we're talking about long-term solutions." Frankly, so is our feeding of homeless people and prostitutes in Tijuana's Zona Norte. It's not the Holy Grail of "total community/societal transformation". But it's a start. And we will continue to observe, ask questions, and develop strategies to "take it to the next level", whatever that may look like.

On the topic of Band-Aid solutions, Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point has this to say:
"This is the first lesson of the Tipping Point. Starting epidemics (of change) requires concentrating resources on a few key areas...

"A critic looking at these tightly focused, targeted interventions might dismiss them as Band-Aid solutions. But that phrase should not be considered a term of disparagement. The Band-Aid is an inexpensive, convenient, and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. In their history, Band-Aids have probably allowed millions of people to keep working or playing tennis or cooking or walking when they would otherwise have had to stop. The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem with the minimum amount of effort and time and cost.

"We have, of course, an instinctive disdain for this kind of solution because there is something in all of us that feels that true answers to problems have to be comprehensive, that there is virtue in the dogged and indiscriminate application of effort, that slow and steady will win the race. The problem, of course, is that the indiscriminate application of effort is something that is not always possible. There are times when we need a convenient shortcut, a way to make a lot out of a little, and that is what Tipping Points, in end, are all about."
In Zechariah 4:10, is that well-known snippet of a verse: "Who despises the days of small things?" It is the small things that take root and eventually grow into large things (didn't Jesus say something about the Kingdom of God being like that?). So perhaps, from a certain point of view, what we're doing represents "band-aids", but it could also easily be seen as it really is: over 3000 "seeds" already planted in over 2700 families in the colonias around Tijuana, Rosarito, and Ensenada.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Is the floor shaking, or is it just me?

Okay, it WAS the floor. The 7.2 earthquake that hit near Méxicali yesterday made parked vehicles, furniture, and the YWAM classroom (which is where Wendy & I were at the time) do a version of the funky chicken. By the time we realized, "DANG! This is an earthquake!", it was over.

These images were on the website of Méxicali's La Crónica de Hoy (Daily Chronicle). The article lists the first shock at 7.2, with about 20 aftershocks in the next two hours, the strongest of which was 5.4 on the Richter scale. Most of the damage was to roads, some buildings, and most of Méxicali is without power (including hospitals).

Our base director from YWAM Tijuana and several other staff left early this morning for Méxicali, to find out if we can assist in anyway, and to get an accurate assessment of the need. Most of the (English) news around San Diego is focused more on how buildings were swaying in Los Angeles and San Diego than on Méxicali itself, so we're kicking it old skewl and just sending some staff to find out first-hand. :)

For those who have emailed and/or FB'ed us, we are all fine. It was a very strange sensation -- kind of like being on a ship in high seas, trying to get your "sea legs" -- but we felt only the edges of the quake itself. And after a quick visit to Méxicali by several of our YWAM staff, it seems that the majority of the damage done was to roads.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Eye of the Beholder

"A picture speaks a thousand words."

But depending on your technique and what you choose to show in the picture, you can easily tell the story "objectively" and yet still create a set of assumptions, exaggerations, and give people a "feel" for the city that may be at best incomplete, if not outright inaccurate.

The picture above was taken, of course, of the city of Tijuana, Baja California Norte, in the beautiful United States of Mexico (the country's actual name). And it's accurate. The cramped housing, with often mere inches separating the houses, the arid desert colours, the seemingly haphazard and random city planning -- it's all accurate.

But it's not the entire picture.

This is another picture of Tijuana. But the angle is different. The viewpoint is from the opposite side of the city, the stunning topography is revealed, under a sky of striking colour and clouds, and like the previous picture, it is an "accurate" rendition of Tijuana.

And yet the picture gives you a completely different "feel" for Tijuana.

One of the first adjustments for living and ministering in a different culture is to learn that we all tend to look at cities, countries, and people through a certain set of lenses. And that we need to often change our perspective. Sometimes this is achieved through simply living there for a season. The "other-ness" of Tijuana fades rather quickly, as you settle in and adjust.

But perhaps the more important change in how we "see" is when we ask God to open our eyes to how He sees Tijuana. To see things from His perspective. To see the people through Jesus' eyes. To notice His fingerprints in the culture. To dare to believe that God has a better vision for the Mexican people than what Fox News, CNN, or the CBC would have us believe.

What do we see when we look around Tijuana? Maybe the better question is: what are we expecting to see, and does that expectation actually make us blind?