Saturday, December 18, 2010

This Christmas

This Christmas, we at the MAK school family, rocked a cynicism blasting, injustice butt kicking, poverty fighting campaign by raising an incredible US$16,000+ to provide clean water for children in Cambodia.

It's cliche and kind of untrue to say it's not about the money. After all, it is with these very funds that water purification systems will be built. But I've learned how relative money is. A dollar means different things to a billionaire, to a middle class family, and to those living in extreme poverty. Rather, the significance is in the impact of each dollar, both in the the people from whom it was given and those who received.

I can't speak for each student/staff/parent of the school community, but judging from the generous outpouring from beginning to end of this short campaign, they resonated deeply with the cause and believed in making a difference in our world. It is a delightful testimony of the character the community exhibited, that they would give so willingly to people who will likely never get a chance to say thank you.

For me, I can't think of a word to capture my joy in this campaign, so I will steal Gabe Choi's phrase which he repeatedly used when I was translating: "blown away". (Note to Gabe, blown away - no equivalent in Chinese!) To be honest, I had fairly low expectations of this project. I've had some experiences with the workings of NGO's so I know for a fact it is not an easy task to ask for donations in this economic climate. This is the first time the school has done a project targeted to help people off-island, so I pessimistically angst over the obstacle of not being able to show our families the actual location and people of the project. Our target goal (10,000) was higher than the amount ever raised before: another stretch of faith.

So these dollars are going to change the lives of thousands of kids living in extreme poverty, and I hope it has changed the hearts and ambitions of our kids. To me, it was a mind-blowing reminder of God's faithfulness to us and the desires He has given us to bring hope for the poor. It was a sweet gentle call to faith in community, because it was together with so many people working in various ways that this project was accomplished. And above all, it was a display of His love, abundantly showered on myself and others involved, to share in His joy and delight through our compassion and generosity, and on the children in Cambodia, to whom He has brought light in the midst of their darkness this Christmas.

The temptation is there. The pull to despair about how many continue to suffer and die in poverty and injustice for every child we have helped. Our work is far from being done. But for now I revel in this mountaintop experience and simply say thanks to my good and loving God.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Boundaries in Family

I've been reading Boundaries for Kids, the infamous Boundaries book by Cloud and Townsend adapted for parents. So far, I dig it. The book fleshes out some of the principles I use in parenting my children, and offers some very practical advice in various situations. From what I've read (I've never actually read the original Boundaries), the idea of drawing healthy boundaries in our lives is to develop a clear sense of self, identity, purpose, in order to functionally engage in thriving relationships. As applied to parenting, they advise parents to seek to have a life outside of their children, not only to protect themselves from burnout but also to model actively living a purposeful life. In doing so, we also foster a self-identity in the children beyond their relationship with us. As I nod and mutter my "Amens" throughout the book, a nagging voice in my head seems to provoke: "Rebel! Exactly what point did you abandon your Chinese upbringing and adopt this Western nonsense and raising your kids to draw boundaries and be independent? What do YOU know about family? What if YOUR family "drew boundaries" with you, would you have the privileges of the life you enjoy now?"

The truth is, I've heard some horror stories of Chinese families with absolutely no sense of boundaries. One of Jason's students recently married a man whose mother still tucks him into bed at night. Even more disturbing is when I told this story to my family, they shrugged and said it's very common. Some of these "attachment" issues between a son and his mother causes tremendous distress to Chinese wives and I have seen destruction of families over the impossible "po-po" (mother-in-law) relations. I think a book on Boundaries could truly lift some Chinese families out of their miserable, enmeshed tangle of relationships. However, I am also weary of Western missionaries preaching the "leave and cleave" passage without comprehending the complexities of the Chinese family network. It resembles the "be White to be Christian" paradigm too much for my comfort.

So I am again left in the lovely grey area where I find myself most of these days. I want to sound the trumpets and recommend Boundaries to my friends, but am not sure how the Chinese audience would receive it. In the end, I don't think Chinese families need a Boundaries book, written by people who have not operated in a Chinese context. This is not to say there are not "boundaries" problems in Chinese society, but that the solution needs to come from the Holy Spirit breathing His gentle nudges of change within Chinese culture. When a Christian Chinese xi-fu (daughter in law) falls on her knees crying for help to our God, perhaps she will receive what she needs without abandoning the amazing breadth of commitment and sacrificial love that typical Chinese families exhibit for each other.