STEP­PING OUT FROM A FIRST-WORLD MIND­SET

Activated - - NEWS - By Ruth McKeague Ruth McKeague lives in Ot­tawa, Canada, and writes for Fru­clas­sity, 1 a site ded­i­cated to shar­ing ideas and per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences to help peo­ple get out of debt. ■

Al­most ev­ery sin­gle day, I’m struck by how lucky I am to work where I do. I’m a teacher at an in­ner-city school that serves fam­i­lies from all around the world. I work in the li­brary, where it is nor­mal to see, at any given ta­ble, a group of four stu­dents work­ing to­gether who rep­re­sent four dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents, four dif­fer­ent lan­guages, and four dif­fer­ent faiths. The UN could learn a lot from my school.

Vanessa is a se­nior student who would like to run her own sa­lon some day. I re­mem­ber when I first met her last year, I was struck by how fash­ion­able, pleas­ant, and con­fi­dent she was. She is the im­age of happy po­ten­tial.

She is also a refugee from a war-torn African na­tion who ar­rived in our city with her large fam­ily in March of 2014. The eight chil­dren range in age from nine to twenty years old. Vanessa’s dad has worked spo­rad­i­cally since their ar­rival, but he hasn’t been able to se­cure reg­u­lar employment. Her mom has strug­gled for years with health prob­lems, and she can’t work out­side the home. The fam­ily gets sup­port from so­cial as­sis­tance—and from Vanessa.

Be­sides at­tend­ing school full-time, Vanessa works part-time at a sa­lon. Her in­come is di­rected in three dif­fer­ent ways: It goes to­ward help­ing her fam­ily. It goes to­ward sav­ings for post­sec­ondary school­ing. It goes to­ward her tithe. I was very taken aback last week when I heard Vanessa say that she gives 10% of her in­come to her church.

“It’s a must,” she ex­plained to me, her voice ac­cented by her African home­land, quiet and steady. “When I was a lit­tle kid, my mom worked, and I saw her tithe. My dad did too. And we al­ways had enough.”

But what about now? I asked her if she ever felt tempted not to tithe be­cause of the hard­ship in her life. She didn’t seem to un­der­stand what I meant. “There are a lot of peo­ple in your house,” I said. She nod­ded her head, wait­ing for me to make my point. “Some peo­ple would find that hard,” I ex­plained. “Your dad not be­ing able to find work … Your mom’s health prob­lems … Hav­ing to leave friends and fam­ily be­hind, be­ing new to this coun­try …” I stopped try­ing to con­vince Vanessa of her strug­gles as I re­al­ized that she sim­ply did not feel hard done by.

“Some­times back home,” she said, “we would let home­less peo­ple stay with us for a while. We still send money to or­phan­ages back home. Here, if we have ex­tra food or

cloth­ing, we go out and bring it to peo­ple on the streets.”

I was un­able to rec­on­cile the pic­ture of abun­dance and gen­eros­ity that Vanessa was paint­ing for me with my un­der­stand­ing of her lim­ited resources. “But don’t you ever feel like you need some­thing that you can’t buy?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “And then I ask for money. I ask friends or fam­ily. I don’t ask to bor­row. It’s al­ways a gift.” Some­times giv­ing, some­times re­ceiv­ing (but never go­ing into debt), Vanessa is equally com­fort­able in both roles. Happy to of­fer, and not too proud to ac­cept.

Again, I came back to the tithing ques­tion. “But if you some­times don’t have enough money, don’t you feel like keep­ing that 10% of your in­come that you give away?”

“No,” said Vanessa calmly. “God won’t let you miss the money that you give.” And she told about a time when she found $10 in her pocket. And a story about a time when she couldn’t af­ford to buy a coat, but then some­one who had bought a coat that was the wrong size gave it to her.

“What do you think,” I asked with some trep­i­da­tion, be­cause I was ask­ing for my­self, “about peo­ple with good jobs who live in big houses but who say they can’t af­ford to give very much?”

I braced my­self, but the an­swer came with no judg­ment, a con­tin­ued calm, quiet steadi­ness. “They don’t know the se­cret.”

She didn’t fol­low up with an ex­pla­na­tion. “What se­cret?” I asked. I could see from the clock that our time was al­most up. Vanessa had to leave for work at 3:45. But I wanted to know the se­cret.

“When you give some­thing, there are more bless­ings,” she said.

There was a math that just didn’t add up. And yet some­how, it did. I be­lieve this young lady has a bright future in her new coun­try. The skills that she’s learn­ing at school and at work will help to pre­pare her for it, but her quiet con­fi­dence and strong foun­da­tion will see her through. I’m grate­ful to Vanessa and other stu­dents who chal­lenge my first-world per­spec­tives and stretch my un­der­stand­ing. She sees the world through a lens of grat­i­tude, trust, and hope, and the ob­sta­cles that don’t even reg­is­ter on her seem to van­ish be­neath her feet as she moves for­ward.

1. http://www.fru­clas­sity.com/

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