not guilty In one of my recent posts, I wrote about a visit to Zambia that changed my life.

“I remember how horrified I was at the depth of poverty I witnessed while visiting Zambia a few years ago. The guilt I felt upon returning to my warm home and fully stocked kitchen was debilitating for several days.”

To this day, several years later, I still struggle with this guilt. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes it is too difficult to bear and other times it doesn’t cross my mind. During Compassion’s Christmas banquet, it was particularly heavy.

I was reminiscing and remembered a conversation I had with one of my Zambian friends as we passed a Subway restaurant. He told me how excited he was for Christmas. It was the one meal when his family ate chicken. My heart sank as I remembered this and looked over the beautiful meal that was in front of me.

A few minutes later, Wess Stafford was asked to say grace. What followed in the few words he said touched the depth of my heart:

“We know that what we have before us is so much more than those we work for and serve. We are thankful for this blessing and promise to use the strength gained from this meal to work harder for those living in poverty and witnessing injustice.”

No, it’s not fair that I was born in America instead of Africa. It’s not fair that I enjoy abundance while billions endure extreme poverty. But gosh dog it, I will not feel guilty for it. Moving forward, I resolve that it will empower me to work harder on behalf of those I care for so deeply.

I know that many of you may have struggled with this same issue. Maybe you visited your sponsored child or maybe you did mission work in college. You came home with the same guilt I did. This guilt is not what God intended for us to take home from our visits.

Take heart — do not let this guilt paralyze you. Instead, use it to propel you into action. What can you do to influence those around you and spread awareness?

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  1. Jan 24, 2011
    at 6:10 am

    Thank you for sharing this most beautiful perspective on the issue that many of us struggle with as we work alongside Compassion, breaking our hearts for what breaks His.

    This really helps.

  2. Cheri Duchrow
    Jan 24, 2011
    at 7:23 am

    Great post. The mother of one of my sponsored children in Peru once said to me. You must be very blessed to live in America. Thanks to God being in my heart and being involved with Compassion it helped me answer her. I said Yes and with many blessings comes great responsibilities to do God’s work. Thanks for sharing Wess’ prayer, it is a good one!

  3. Jan 24, 2011
    at 7:55 am

    Thank you for sharing Wess’ prayer! Our family might use that when we pray over meals.

    I’d be interested in learning more about how folks begin to process the guilt when they return, and how to catalyze that into action.

  4. hi i'm steph
    Jan 24, 2011
    at 8:03 am

    This is the most precious photo I’ve seen in a long time. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Ken M.
    Jan 24, 2011
    at 9:19 am

    I’m reminded of my trip to Brazil after reading this post. I was helping my youngest sponsored son assemble 2 puzzles at one of the centers. Both puzzles had one or two missing pieces. While my son didn’t seem to mind that pieces were missing, I found myself getting a little frustrated but I hid the feelings.
    I work in an affluent school system as an Occupational Therapy Assistant. At times I may help a child learn how to put a puzzle together. When I let a teacher know that a puzzle has missing pieces I’m told to throw the puzzle out because missing pieces will only frustrate the child.

    • Jan 24, 2011
      at 5:57 pm

      Wow. What a good contrast, Ken! We live in an affluent throw-away society, for sure.

      One of our sponsored boys wrote a “Thank you” letter after his birthday, last year. Among the things he had bought was a slipper. Singular. I checked with a friend from church who has spent a lot of time in India, and she affirmed that that is common. She said they don’t throw anything away, if it can still be used; apparently, he had one good, or at least useful, slipper.

      I can’t imagine going shopping for one shoe, in this country.

  6. Jan 24, 2011
    at 11:11 am

    So well put! Thank you for this. I just posted a blog entry on my own journey of encountering Katrina devastation firsthand, going to an extreme in response and over time coming up with three practical ways I could make a stronger ongoing difference. Love how you emphasize using what we’ve been blessed with for a purpose.

  7. Jan 24, 2011
    at 1:04 pm

    Thank you for this. I struggle with feeling guilty often. Not just for being born in America, but for being born into my family. Being born on “the right side of the tracks” because even in small town America, there can be such a huge discrepancy in quality of living. Affluent people live with 5 miles of poverty, and I find it hard to not be overwhelmed with guilt. As you say, I am striving to use that feeling to bring awareness to the issue instead of letting it paralyze me.

  8. Melanie Newhouse
    Jan 24, 2011
    at 2:01 pm

    Thank you so much for the article! It was very timely for me; This issue has been on my mind recently and I do feel paralyzed by the guilt at times, not knowing why God would chose for me to be born to such a priviledged life. I am learning to rely on the Lord to give me strength and spur me on to helping others more and more.

  9. Jan 24, 2011
    at 3:53 pm

    I remember feeling guilty for having so much when I came back from Papua New Guinea after a mission trip while in college. What did it for me was seeing a village church (made out of bamboo) and then comparing it to a beautiful church that was a cathedral in comparison. The difference struck me then, in what we have compared to what they don’t. It was weird, though–I never thought of the villagers as living in poverty until much later. Rustic, yes. Impoverished, never really crossed my mind.

    In addition to sponsoring children through Compassion on my own, I recently sponsored a boy in Haiti about the same age as my students, and telling them about where he lives, and trying to help them understand that there’s a bigger world out there–where people live in places where not everything is provided…easily accessible…just how blessed we are by being born in America. So, that’s my small step in turning my “guilt” into action. Now I need to encourage my kids to do the same.

    • Shaina
      Jan 24, 2011
      at 4:24 pm

      Judith, I remember feeling the same way at my church. In Zambia, we worshiped and fellowshipped together under tarps and mud huts. It was a wonderful experience! When I went to church after returning to the states, I was unexpectedly shocked. I still struggle with it, but hey- we’re all works of art in progress.

  10. Becky
    Jan 24, 2011
    at 4:39 pm

    Thank you for this post and prayer. I often feel guilty too as I listen to my own children sometimes complain about “needing” some new DS game, or another pair of sneakers, or this or that. I like that line about we have been given much as Americans , so much is expected of us.

  11. Jan 24, 2011
    at 6:49 pm

    Wow, that prayer really sent chills down my spine, in a good way. I think I will write it down. I just talked to someone about gratitude being a verb…and I think that this post is a wonderful way of explaining what that means….using the blessings we have been given to be a blessing.

  12. Mike Stephens
    Jan 24, 2011
    at 7:12 pm

    that is such a good point, to use our freedoms and blessings for good and not for evil and to push others down.

  13. Ken M.
    Jan 24, 2011
    at 8:53 pm

    When I returned from Brazil, I didn’t feel guilt. I felt anger. The anger came from knowing that many affluent people have no clue and don’t want to know. The attitude is “I got mine; get off your butt and get yours”. Sometimes I hear “why worry about other countries; take care of home first”. Then they don’t reach out to help anyone here. Sometimes I read news articles over the internet about the desperate situation in Haiti and other countries. Some people have responded to the news articles by writing, “those people are worthless anyway, so why should we be concerned.”
    How did I process my feelings after my experience in Brazil? I told my supervisor that I was angry about returning to work after the things I saw in Brazil. I told her how one of my sponsored son’s mother thanked me because she was able to buy him sandals for our fun day. Then I return to work and there are parents who don’t appreciate the things that staff does for their child. They’re always ready to call their lawyer in order to get their way. Her response was “People living within the DC beltway don’t even have a clue about the economic condition of the rest of the country. We’re living in a bubble”.
    As I told others about my experience in Brazil I would cry almost everytime for months. That was definitely a good release of the anger.
    Now I thank God for blessing me so I can continue to bless my children.

  14. Barbara Ferraro
    Jan 24, 2011
    at 11:15 pm

    The guilt we feel in these situations is not of God, these feelings come from the devil, and you are right to say you will not give in to them. Yes, I have visited two of my children, one in Bolivia and one in the Dominican Republic, and although I did not see their actual homes, I did see the homes of other sponsored children, and yes, I also saw the lack of things that I have in my home. As you said, it just made more determined to be there in their lives by continuing to write to them and to pray for them and to send gifts through Compassion when able to.

  15. Sarah
    Jan 25, 2011
    at 6:10 am

    This past summer we traveled to italy and visited a number of churches – as an art historian, I dragged my family to more than they cared to see! :-) I was really struck by the difference between 2 churches in particular – St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the largest church in the world (which can hold 60,000 worshipers) and a very small local church south of Naples. I had expected to feel overwhelmed with the Spirit of the Lord at St. Peter’s. It is, after all, the location of the burial of St. Peter and filled with art historical wonders. Much to my surprise, St. Peter’s left me cold. I didn’t feel God’s presence at all! At the small church in Marina Grande, however, the love that the people had for God was tangible. These people make their living fishing and live modestly, but WOW! they were so passionate about God. It was amazing. As I wrote to my sponsored children, just because something is bigger or more expensive, it doesn’t mean that it’s better!

  16. Denice Dirks
    Jan 25, 2011
    at 8:06 am

    Thank you for a great perspective. I struggle with this daily working for a food bank. And even more so when I write to our child, now children we just sponsored another and are awaiting the kit for her.

    I tried to share this on Facebook and it would not let me; said it contained info that had been reported as abusive or spammy. I was able to post the prayer and the link in comments though. Anyone else have this issue – or were you successful sharing the link directly into Facbook?

  17. Marvin
    Jan 28, 2011
    at 10:32 pm

    Guilt is not always bad. People in the USA spend more money on dog food than they do world missions. We buy things we don’t really need…I don’t think that God wants us to be poor but maybe we should feel a litle guilt that we have to much… God what don’t I need that I can give up to help others in need????

  18. Jan 29, 2011
    at 3:48 pm

    Part of the believer’s task is to reach out to the hurting world with the love of God. Sometimes we can become so occupied with spiritual matters, that we miss the physical needs of individuals. Instead we must show compassion and be aware of opportunities in providing solutions!

  19. Linda
    Jan 30, 2011
    at 2:56 pm

    We always hear that God uses the poor to shame the rich. It almost seems that no one should be rich but God made them both. I think that if one hordes the riches/gifts God gave him than He use the poor to shame this person. Although I have never been to a poor county, it seems as though they are rich in another way and it is not with status nor things.

  20. Alida Catcheside
    Apr 14, 2012
    at 2:17 am

    Thank you for your article. Sometimes being strong or well resourced has become a merit and virtue in its own right (despite how much is based on God’s grace). Your article is a good reminder, especially Wess Stafford’s prayer, that we are to steward our wealth and strength for God’s plans and purposes and that what we have is not our own.

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