Distribution

IMG_20200614_221753 (1)The night streets are empty during lockdown, but I duck through back alleys to avoid checkpoints and prying questions. It’s past curfew and I don’t have a pass. I reach a home cobbled together from bamboo and discarded plastic and peek in a doorway. “I know times are hard for everyone, I want to help.” The family stares back, stunned. An envelope passes from my hand to the mother’s as I apologize, “I know it’s only a little bit.” Then a quick hustle step to the next door before a crowd can gather. Ninety-seven houses left to go.

***

IMG-20200621-WA0003 (1)The little car pulls up, we yank it open and pull out huge sacks of rice, lentils, and flour along with boxes of cooking oil and buckets of fruit. Our ragtag crew gets to work filling 11-pound bags of flour and rice, 4-pound bags of lentils, dividing up oil and melons and mangos and bananas. When it’s all proportioned correctly we load 30 sets back into the car, mask up, and drive to a nearby slum. “Please don’t gather around the car, no crowds! Stay in your homes, we only deliver to doors!” The driver lines up sets and I run them to each home. Half an hour later the car is empty and we return to fill it again. Four more runs ahead of us today.

***

My backpack is filled with nuts, dried snacks, carton drinks, and a little chocolate. In each hand in a bag of fruit. I heft it up and hike out to the lonely road where rickshaw drivers sleep on blankets on the pavement. They haven’t had work in months. One at a time I greet them, ask how they’re doing, and lay out a little spread of snacks. It’s packed with nutrition but not much volume, will only make a difference for a few days. But the twenty men who live on this little stretch always respond with such gratefulness when I’m able to show up.

***

Rich folk, which includes almost all Westerners, tend to have a deep attachment to their wealth. “It’s mine, I earned it, who are you to say what I should do with it?” Scripture instead takes the position that attachment to wealth is a disease, that wealth is a gift meant to be shared, to be divested from as quickly as possible. This is especially true when we see other people’s needs before us. As Paul encouraged the Corinthians:

The point is not, after all, that others should get off lightly and you be made to suffer, but rather that there should be equality. At the present time your abundance can contribute to their lack, so that their abundance can contribute to your lack. That’s what makes for equality,  as it is written: ‘The one who had much had nothing to spare, and the one who had little didn’t go short.’

Here, today, the lack is clear. Three months of lockdown in a country with hundreds of millions of malnourished people and an unprepared and insufficient government response. I don’t have any work, we’re not allowed to teach. So what else could I do? We’ve tried to identify the most vulnerable 400 or so families in our own slum, as well as a couple thousand families in the most vulnerable fifteen or so other slums in our area, and do what we can to help them. It’s a drop of rain on a dry lakebed.

Redistributing the ridiculous surplus wealth of the “West” to the tragically underserved slum dwellers of the Global South. Desperately hoping to keep their food supply up, keep their health up, stave off malnutrition before COVID-19 hits their slum too.

Each time I give a food packet or a cash envelope, I think about how meager the contribution is. One of our visits is enough to help them for maybe one week. At best I visit each slum twice. Two weeks of assistance in twelve weeks of lockdown. Perhaps they had some savings, perhaps someone else will come by with a package, perhaps the government will help a little. We can, at best, help a couple thousand families in this way.

There are 100,000 families living in slums in our city, well over 100 million across the world. We’re just one tiny team. How many more people would it take to actually provide the care that’s needed?

It’s only a drop. But if I didn’t do it I would hate myself. So I wake up every few mornings to fill up bags, sneak out every few nights to hand out envelopes, and can’t stop the angry thoughts about what a f—ed up place we’ve made of this world, where there is FAR more than enough food for everyone but far too much selfishness and greed to get that food to the people who really need it.

This is how we know love; he laid down his life for us. And we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Anyone who has the means of life in this world, and sees a brother or sister in need, and closes their heart against them–how can God’s love be abiding in them? Children, let us not love in word, or in speech, but in deed and in truth.

It is not a great service to be lauded. If we feel the love of God at all, it is the bare minimum we can do with the massive privileges we have. We need to do much more.

Footnotes:

[1] 2 Corinthians 8:13-15.

[2] 1 John 3:16-18.

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