Moon Hee’s sweet, innocent face peered up from under her conical Asian hat. No older than sixteen, the young Korean’s poverty stricken parents were offering up their daughter’s virtue for a measly ten dollars. It would feed the family of five for a month. They were counting on this soldier’s eighteen year-old hormones, as well as my wealthy American heritage. Moon’s beautiful smile is etched into my memory, though her stick-thin form was shrouded by over-sized rags. I left with an empty wallet, but the virgin’s virtue remained intact.
Our Army base, Camp Casey abutted the town of Dongducheon where the poorest girls were sold into sexual slavery, usually by age 16, sometimes 15. Rice farmers would parlay one or two daughters into funds to sustain the remainder of the family. Many young lives ended in suicide. Many more prostitutes died during back-room abortions or carbon monoxide poisoning from poorly vented ondol heaters.
Clothing, dingy from muddy river water, hung behind every building. The public toilet was a hole in a dock extending over a sludge-filled river. Twenty feet downstream, I stood watching the townspeople scrubbing laundry on the river-rocks and swimming. Imagine my shock when I heard a splash in the water, then looked up to see a woman on the dock with bared buttocks squatting over the hole. A common sight was someone squatted down on the side of the road with their pants around their ankles, relieving themselves.
Letters from home detailing problems back in what we called the “real world”, suddenly sounded like heaven.
Washing machine broke down. Mom has to use the public laundry-mat for a whole 2 weeks. The corner dry cleaners closed down. Dad couldn’t get his suit cleaned in time for Brenda’s graduation party. The church had to purchase new pews with softer cushions—people were complaining about the old ones. Brother Tim’s having trouble getting his Monte Carlo to pass vehicle inspection. The old TV in the den finally went kapoot—only have one color TV to watch now.
Eighteen months in Korea taught me how relative a person’s idea of being poor really is. As of 2013, the poverty threshold in the United States was $22,550 per year for a household of four. In many countries, a mere $1000.00 per capita marks you as middle class. In third world countries, if a body has a roof over their head, eats twice a day and owns a pair of shoes, they are considered rich. Clean drinking water is a scarce commodity in many areas.
Simply put, many of us living in first world countries don’t know how blessed we are until witnessing true poverty first hand. Complaining about our real world problems would be scoffed at, as the whining of spoiled brats by the poor folks in Korea and many other countries.
When I returned state-side my folks were just packing up for the mission field in Zimbabwe Africa. Had I not recently arrived, kissing American soil, I might have gone with them.
Nine years of service offered my parents the same kind of enlightenment I’d received from my Korean experience. The Shona tribe are a people stalwart in courage and determination. Yet many are battered down by poverty, resulting in rampant disease, which stems mainly from a lack of nutrition and contaminated water. But poor hygiene awareness also plays a large role. Then there’s the sparse availability of medicines and doctors.
Still today, I sometimes get caught up in an attitude of entitlement. Really though, is choosing which steak house to dine at such a daunting task? Oh the stress of which investment I should make! When we complain about our high taxes, perhaps we should move to Korea? I get pretty bent out of shape when the Word program on my laptop is not responding correctly. And I recall moaning over the fact that I could only afford the $800.00 model. Yet, that’s more than a year’s income for many individuals!
There’s always someone who’d gladly trade problems with us. Remember Moses leading the Israelites through the wilderness? God sent manna from heaven and quail to eat and water from a rock. What was wrong with those people? Constantly grumbling, moaning and complaining? Shame on…
What’s that Lord?
No, I’m no better. In fact I’m worse. Forgive me Lord. Thank you that I was born in such a privileged country. And for blessing us so richly. You are Jehovah Jireh, our constant and faithful provider.
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