In the sleepy town of Richmond Hill, I look out and ask myself, “Where is God?” and “What work is God doing here?” As a Mennonite and as a person who has spent times in evangelical settings, I have come to be conditioned to trying to find God in the alley ways and the dark streets. Among the prostitutes and the homeless. I have been conditioned to be more sympathetic to inner city causes, troubled youth, and children in the two thirds world than anything else. Child sponsorship and missionary work in Africa has often been on my radar while I sit comfortably on my nice chair in the living room on my expensive laptop with my nice new cell phone in a safe neighbourhood where children are free to run around after dark.
I came to Richmond Hill after living in Elkhart, Indiana… a city that really grew on me in a strange way during my time there. I found Elkhart to be very broken and racially segregated. There were many times when, as a woman, I did not feel safe to venture off by myself at night and every time I opened a newspaper another murder had taken place. I know that the churches in Elkhart were doing all they could to reach out and I applaud their efforts… but there was always a strange uncomfortableness that I felt when I was there… and perhaps that is not all bad.
When I think of the many ways that my friends and I have tried to reach out to others, I think about the move-in patches that many of my friends have joined where a group of people live in areas which have high immigration, crime, or poverty rates really trying to make a difference through prayer, fasting, and community building. There is definitely a place for what they are doing especially when we consider the fact that even with all of our economic and literary advancements there are still more than a billion people worldwide who can’t write their own names and 2.6 billion people lack basic water sanitation worldwide. (http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats). This is definitely a wake-up call that as Christians we need to be trying to help fight these global issues. Furthermore, as someone who works in a field for people who have developmental disabilities, I am troubled by the statistic which says that “There are approximately 170 million individuals in the world with intellectual disabilities. 26 million of these people live on less than a dollar a day” (In other words about 15%) (http://vimeo.com/7736205)
But what does all this mean to the person who lives in Rich Man’s Hill where the car of choice is either a Lexus or a BMW or where the houses are worth several million dollars each? There is definitely a feeling of snobbery in the air sometimes that can be stifling as even though most places in the Greater Toronto Area are wealthy, moreso Richmond Hill. Definitely, there seems to be a core relation between having wealth and the feeling of safety and security however false that might be. There is also a feeling of discontentment and even depression among people who are always reaching for the top and always striving for the next top dollar.
A part of me wants to go into some type of lecture about how all the wealthy people who live in Richmond Hill could be doing a whole lot more than they currently are, or something like that, but I don’t really think that that’s the point. In fact, I feel that it is too bad that so many people view wealth with suspicion. Truly, I think that even though there are people who come by their wealth greedily or through dishonest gain, there are many hard working and efficient people who have spent a life time learning how to budget and who are truly generous whom God has gifted with wealth. It is a wonderful thing to have the resources to go on extensive trips and to see the world. And it’s a wonderful thing to enjoy the sensations of fine dining and luxurious living if that is what you have been given. It’s not all there is to life, and the trap can become to think it is, but if you are still down to earth and personable, you can enjoy many truly good friends while sharing in this lifestyle that you enjoy. So, I don’t think it’s about preaching a Gospel of guilt or saying that because people live in poverty we shouldn’t enjoy that nice juicy steak. After all, we will always have the poor among us. I can admit to the fact that there were many days after an economic justice class that I felt guilty because it is not my fault that I was born into the Canadian society rather than one which does not have the same advantages and that I was born into a family which valued education and hard work. That said, I do think that as Christians we do need to use the resources we are given wisely rather than squandering them.
So, as I look around my community I might not see racial segregation or poverty in overt ways like I did in Elkhart, but I still know that God is here. Even though I don’t really have dirt under my fingernails at the moment. I still see potential to reach out to the immigrant population here and to hear their stories even though they have prestigious jobs. More than that, I love the fact that L’Arche is in Richmond Hill. Often, there can be a temptation where there is affluence to regard those who are unable to have a job as lazy or “bums”. But what of people who have severe disabilities who are not able to walk, talk, or bathe themselves? How do affluent people view these brothers and sisters? Are they simply a nuisance? Useless to our society because they are not contributing members of our economy nor will they ever use these expensive services or enjoy the pleasures of fine dining?
Well, this is where L’Arche steps in as a sign and says, “hey wait a minute, people with developmental disabilities have something to offer too”. And so, we give them a wage, take them out into the community, and let them experience “normal” life. You’d be surprized at how many local business owners actually take kindly to short visits from our core members!
Living among BMWs and Lexuses and living among people who rake in 6 digits might be a different kind of witnessing than living among those who are homeless or imprisoned, but it is still possible and important nonetheless. We are called to be “Christ with skin on” to all those that we come into contact with – regardless of their economic situation. So, next time you are in a rich neighbourhood rather than being envious or looking down on them thinking they must be snobs, truly ask yourself, how could I build community here? Is it possible that even in their wealth they are truly lost and need to see me be the face of Christ for them today?