Thinking about income disparity

I came across this blog post today which really put into perspective the budget we’ve been working on for our time in Davao. We’ve been basing our estimates for our cost of living there on guidelines from Newlife School.

A Philippine peso is just a little over 2 cents.

The “poverty threshold” for the Philippines was 16841 pesos per capita annually in 2009. In USD, that’s $384 per person per year, or just over a dollar a day. According to official statistics, over 20% of families and over 25% of the population is living in poverty.

As clearly demonstrated in the post I linked above, most families whose incomes are technically above the poverty line do not allow for anything like “comfortable middle class lifestyle” in North America. Some things (particularly services and labor) are much, much less expensive in the Philippines than they are here. Many other things (gas, electricity, cheese) cost as much or more than they do in the States.

Those budgetary guidelines we’ve been using will make our family part of the top 1%. This despite the fact that our month-to-month expenses in Davao will be dramatically lower than our living expenses in Mason, Ohio, and the fact that we will be living without a lot of “stuff” that we take for granted in North America. (For instance, we don’t expect to have air conditioning, a dryer, hot running water, we may or may not purchase a vehicle but we certainly won’t have more than one as we do in the States!)  We aren’t used to thinking of ourselves as “part of the 1%” — because here in Mason, we’re not! But in comparison to most of the rest of the world, we are the “rich Americans.”

Global poverty and income disparity are big, ugly problems without simple answers. Thinking about these questions can be overwhelming. Making a difference can seem impossible. But we as Christians living in North America need to grapple with these questions. I read the book of James and tremble. If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? I want to live for God’s kingdom and value what He values, and I see that far too much of my life is wrapped up in my earthly possessions. Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. I am the rich American. I am the 1%.

I do not imagine I am going to solve the big ugly problems, but at the least I can wrestle with them. He was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Are my possessions keeping me from following Jesus? Are they hindering my love for my neighbor? Better to be destitute. But “voluntary poverty” is not the same as involuntary poverty. Even if I were to “sell whatever I have and give to the poor,” I cannot give away my white skin, my American citizenship, the privelege I was born with that makes me part of the 1%.

So, as I wrestle, a beginning: to try to use the gifts God has given me to try to serve and bless the poor, in the most direct and personal way that I know. I am a midwife, a word that means “with woman.” I sit with women during the most intense and vulnerable moments of their lives. I know how to look in their eyes and reassure them with that they will make it through. I know how to stop a hemorrhage and how to help a baby who does not breath.

No matter how poor you are in the States, if you are having a baby, you can have skilled medical care when you give birth. Yes, there are income disparities which are reflected in the provision of health care, but we have a safety net that simply does not exist in the Philippines. The clinic where I will be volunteering as a midwife provides free maternity care for the poor. The women who come to the clinic know they will be treated with respect, kindness, and compassion and will be able to give birth in a clean, safe, comfortable environment with skilled midwives and access to lifesaving medications should they or their baby encounter complications.

with a new mother whose baby I delivered in 2009

There are many things I cannot change, but I can sit with a woman giving birth and be a calm and steady rock for her. I can know her name and her baby’s name and listen to her story. I can do my best to show her Christ’s love in the midst of her birth pains. I can make a beginning, each day, to try to open my heart and my life to what Christ wants to work in me.


Our prayers are with the people of Mindanao who have lost family members or been displaced by the typhoon and flooding.  We are also praying for those involved in relief efforts. Estimates of the number affected have continued to change through the past day. The most recent reports as I post this are at least 1400 dead or missing.

Most of the devastation was on the northern coast of the island, especially the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. Davao City (where we will be moving next year) is on the southern side of Mindanao and our friends there report that area was minimally affected.

Contact with Anglican Bishop in the Philippines

Part of our plan is that I (Matt) will be ordained a deacon in the REC. Anglican deacons are different from Presbyterian deacons, in that they are ordinarily expected to go on to become presbyters, and are thus considered clergy. When we go to the Philippines, then, I will be in orders. When Anglican clergy go abroad, they are expected to labor under the authority of an Anglican bishop in their receiving jurisdiction. For us, it looks like the appropriate receiving bishop is Bishop Frederick Luis Belmonte of The Anglican Church in the Philippines (Traditional). His church has a concordat with the REC and APA, and is orthodox on the matters of sexual ethics that have vexed the Anglican communion in the past decade.

I emailed Bp. Belmonte two weeks ago, telling him about our family and our church, and about our plans to come to the Philippines as missionaries. A week went by, and then another, and I concluded that I must have had the wrong email address.

We knew that today around 1:30 PM, we were scheduled to have a meeting with our rector, Archdeacon Peter Manto, and Canon Wm. Jerdan, the executive secretary of the REC’s Board of Foreign Missions. Two hours before that meeting, the phone rang, and my daughter was surprised to find that it was Bishop Belmonte, who was replying to my email with a phone call. So I was able to report that, yes, I have had contact with a bishop in our receiving Anglican province, and that he was encouraging and welcoming to us. It is always a pleasure to recognize God’s “signature” as He providentially arranges things.

There were a number of encouraging things in the conversation: Bishop Belmonte assured me that after I am ordained in the REC, my diaconal orders will also be recognized in the ACPT. He also told me that the Anglican Church in the Philippines has a seminary, so that there may be opportunity for me to use my Greek skills to assist in the training of Filipino pastors. Finally, he told me that although the ACPT does not have any churches in Davao City where we will be staying for our first year, it is one of the major places in the Philippines where they hope to start a church. I may be able to help with that. He also mentioned that his church cooperates in ministries with other evangelical churches to “build the body of Christ” beyond the particular fellowship of ACPT.

Nothing is certain yet, but it looks like there are many possibilities for me to help and serve the church in the Philippines while Sora ministers at the clinic. Part of our process of discernment is making sure that we both have an objective calling — not a squishy, inner “feeling” of being called to be missionaries, but an objective, verifiable calling. This means we need to see whether our skills and gifts can help meet the needs of the people and churches in the Philippines. Without an objective calling, we would have no business going as missionaries.

Of course, I can’t go expecting to teach Greek or pastor a church — things that God may not have in mind for me there, and things that may or may not work out. It would be a mistake to go into the mission expecting certain things to happen, and then being disappointed when they don’t. My priorities during the first year will be making friends, learning about the culture, working on language skills, and raising my own kids. Nonetheless, I do love to teach Greek and Bible. So I don’t think it’s wrong to be excited about the possibilities.

Only one life

On Wednesday this week I received an unexpected phone call. Abby Kinne, long-time president of the Ohio Midwives Alliance and the first midwife ever to be awared the CPM credential, had died in her sleep at the age of 67. She had gone to work as usual the day before her death and seemed to be “her normal cheerful self.”

Abby Kinne, CPM

I had only known Abby for a few years, most recently working with her on the board of the Ohio Midwives Alliance. She was tireless and dedicated and will be deeply missed, not only by her husband, children, and grandchildren, but also the many families who were fortunate to have her as their midwife, the midwives she mentored and trained, and her colleagues in the birth community in Ohio and around the nation. Abby truly left her mark upon the world and made a difference in so many lives.

Each of us has been given one lifetime. We do not know how many years we will have. Each day is a gift and an opportunity. Do my choices today reflect that? My prayer for myself and for each of us is that we may make the most of each day, not putting our best efforts into “heaping up riches” that we cannot carry with us but building a lasting legacy of love and blessing. May we each come to the end of our days with no regrets.

“LORD, make me to know my end,
And what is the measure of my days,
That I may know how frail I am.
Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths,
And my age is as nothing before You;
Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.  Selah
Surely every man walks about like a shadow;
Surely they busy themselves in vain;
He heaps up riches,
And does not know who will gather them.” Psalm 39:4-6