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Do you see the Whole Picture?

What do you see in this famous optical illusion- an old woman’s profile or a young woman looking away? Many of us have played this game and know the fun of experiencing what psychologists call the ‘gestalt switch’ when your eyes suddenly see a second image emerging from the first. The young woman’s chin becomes the older woman’s nose, the older woman’s chin becomes the young woman’s neckline, the young woman’s ears become the older woman’s eyes, and so on… This image made its public debut in 1888 on a German postcard, and was later adapted by British cartoonist William Ely Hill, who published it in 1915 with the title “My Wife and My Mother-in Law.” For over a century people have played with this optical illusion, ultimately striving to see both images, flipping back and forth with ease as the eyes learn how to see the whole picture.

While on the mission trip to Belize, I found a similar challenge facing our Lenape Valley team. At first glance, we saw a people in desperate need of the basic necessities of life. Granted, we defined ‘basic necessity’ with our American sensibilities. Their one room homes fell far short of our sense of good housing. Imagine our families sharing one room for sleeping, cooking, eating, living. Many of their homes were without electricity, thus they had no fans or air conditioning to bring relief from the heat and humidity of this equatorial country. Indoor plumbing was rare in the community where we served. A communal outhouse shared by several families was a valued luxury. And many of their women cook over an open fire. Experiencing third-world poverty shocks even those of us who have seen the hurting of our inner cities. In Belize, 45% of the population live in that deep poverty.

Our mission team helped to renovate a Health Post that had fallen into disrepair. As we painted, we learned that there is no medical presence in that community, or any of the surrounding communities. Belizeans suffer from the same health maladies that we do, but they have no easy access to doctors or hospitals. We worked hard to prepare the Health Post in the hope that the government might send a doctor every few weeks to help care for the needs of the community. Next time you have a health need, imagine having to wait for weeks in the hope that you might see a doctor. Our construction team worked with their Belizean partners to lay the foundation of a church. In the US we would have backhoes, factory formed rebar frames, and cement trucks to complete that assignment. But third-world construction is done by hand, one challenging step and shovel-full at a time.  

Another part of our mission team served in the schools of the community. We discovered that their schools function without many of the resources we deem essential. One day I handed out coloring sheets and bags of crayons. The children were delighted. They colored intensely, focusing on every detail, showing off each stage of their creation. When time ran out and I began to collect the crayons, they begged to be allowed to finish. Without thinking, I suggested that they take it home to complete- they just stared at me blankly. Then I realized that they do not have crayons at home… they don’t have crayons at school. I thought of the bins of crayons that sit in my craft closet at home that never get used anymore because they are old and broken. How do you teach children without books and paper and crayons? My American heart grieved. Then I learned that most of the children that we met- precious children just like ours- will never get more than a 6 th grade education, especially their girls. Then my American heart broke.

It was easy to see what the people of Belize do not have. But our Belizean leader, Pastor Ruben, challenged us to notice what they do have. That ‘gestalt switch’ opened our eyes and transformed our hearts. I watched the graduation ceremony for the 6th grade class in Georgetown. For most of those children, they have finished their final year of formal education. High school will cost too much for their families to afford, so from this point on they will work. I listened to the Valedictorian of the class give her speech. She was poised and articulate. She began her speech in English (the language of education in Belize), then she thanked her parents in Spanish, and greeted the neighbors in Creole and Maya. She would be considered a top student in any one of our schools. As I listened, I grieved that she will not continue her education. But then I listened to her speech. She declared a resilient determination to change the world, and she called her fellow graduates to that same commitment. She was not asking for people to grieve for her, but to cheer her on!

Over our mission week that ‘gestalt switch’ continued to open our eyes to see the whole picture. We saw the ingenuity of the Belizean men as they found ways to bend metal bars by hand. We learned that ingenuity allowing our team to build a bridge that held a 36- ton truck. We witnessed the determination of those men to build a church to bless their community, and we met the young courageous pastor who will lead that flock. We saw the creative approach of their women, baking bread with hot coals and a tin sheet to form an oven. We were blessed by the sweet welcome of their little ones who were more interested in cuddles than balls. We marveled at the faith of the people who seemed to have so little, but trusted God so much. How often we focus on what we do not have, on what is going wrong, on our hurts and disappointments. I will be forever grateful for the witness of our Belizean friends who see God at work in their midst.

With you striving to see God’s bigger picture,
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