Monday, June 14, 2010

Day 4--Poverty and Firebreathing

Today was an interesting day, even though we didn't get out of the ministry center for a while. We got up extra early for a "poverty simulation", which Dave has warned us of the night before. We entered the cafeteria, where the tables had been pushed aside and had various stations set up on them. The simulation had us roleplaying a working poor family trying to make it through a month of living paycheck-to-paycheck. On a monthly budget of $2,300, we had to obtain housing, food, healthcare, childcare, and more for a family of five. We drew cards at the stations as well as "situation cards" in the center to simulate various good and bad (mostly bad) things that could happen to us.

My friend Jack played the father Ted, Teresa (staffer) was the mother Alice, and I was apparently all three of their kids. We started off by looking for food, which went pretty well; we saved $30 by eating lots of ramen. (Which the kids were totally fine with) Then we looked for housing. We found a place to rent that looked pretty nice, but the eldest daughter Valerie (who had previously been accepted to a prestigious private school) got us evicted for stealing. Back to the housing market!

The next time, we got a deal: by having Alice quit her part-time job and run a daycare, we got free rent and half off childcare. We accordingly rented the most expensive place and moved on, satisfied. We got healthcare, opting to insure only the kids, which paid off when we had no health problems that month. Other complications arose, like having to get a car due to a bus strike, and getting shuttled between social services and the bank trying to collect Ted's raise and inheritance from his dead uncle. One of the staffers was going around offering us vaguely shady loans, which we discovered were 0% interest for 90 days before shooting up to 24% (apparently based on a real loan). we ultimately had to take his offer to make it to the end of the month, scraping by but leaving our future in doubt.

The simulation was a pretty powerful look at the grim situation people in "generational poverty" face. We were constantly worrying what would happen next and if we would have enough money; there was a feeling of dread, at least for me, and helplessness with our fate determined by the situation cards we drew. Presumably real peoples' lives wouldn't be quite as capriciously random, but it was still an eye-opener.

After this we had training sessions on spiritual life and the culture of generational poverty as contrasted with the middle class. One of the things that stood out to me was how the poor are focused more on the here and now as opposed to middle-class values of planning for the future. After the poverty simulation, I could understand why they would hold this view. On the other hand, we learned that in general, they tended to be motivated by survival, relationships, and entertainment, which almost seemed more substantial than the middle-class values of money, success, and appearances. (We also compared the values of the wealthy, which was pretty ridiculous) I'm praying God would give me a heart for the poor and help me to bridge cultural barriers in serving them.

This training went all the way from 10:30 or so until 5, broken up only by lunch. After this we were introduced to the concept of "action groups", basically Bible studies for the summer. The women were broken up into two actions groups since there were more of them, but the men (including male staff) stuck together. At my suggestion, to my delight, we were eating together at Buffalo wild Wings! Unlike in the Twin Cities, there was apparently one right in the city here, 10 minutes' drive away. We got there and ordered quite an assortment of wings; it was the two California guys' first time there. I got my usual honey BBQ wings (delicious) and tried some caribbean jerk sauce as well (not quite so good). My mouth was kind of burning by the end of that, and I was pretty full.

But it was not nearly over. Dave had gotten us 8 blazin' wings, and the good-natured server gave us one more for free so we could each eat one. For those uninitiated with BWW's spectrum of sauces, they start from mild and easy like sweet barbecue all the way up to blisteringly hot sauces. Blazin' was the hottest sauce they offered. My dad routinely orders them when we eat there, but none of us were quite as tough and one wing proved to be quite enough.

After I finished eating, we all counted down and ate the wings together. I tried to swallow mine as quickly as possible to minimize the burning, and at first we thought it wasn't so bad. Turns out the spiciness of blazin' wings takes 15 or so seconds to hit you; pretty soon we were all moaning in pain, drinking tons of water, and stuffing napkins in our mouths. It was extremely intense, almost unbearable for more than a few seconds if you weren't drinking water. I was hit the hardest, since on top of the burning all the wings and fluids were not fitting in my tiny stomach. I basically had to hold perfectly still waiting for the burning and queasiness to subside, speaking...very slowly...and...carefully...for a while after. But we did it. As I pointed out, we were all men now.

After this we returned to the ministry center, grabbed our Bibles, and did our action group in the student lounge. We shared faith stories, which were very powerful to hear back-to-back, and then read through Colossians together, as we would be studying it. I'm looking forward to some seriously solid times with these men of God!

As of press time, Aaron the staffer has gotten out Settlers of Wisconsin, a variant of Settlers of Catan he he apparently made himself. It has tundra instead of desert, marsh instead of ocean, farms instead of cities, and the Whisky Barrel of Death instead of the thief. Quite impressive and entertaining indeed.

Composed ~9:30 Pm, Monday, June 14th, 2010

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