Three years ago, I had the privilege of visiting South America for the first time. During my stay, I—along with the rest of my group—met a family whose story broke our hearts.

Led by a single mother, the family lived in an aluminum-roofed and mud-filled house in the middle of a village town square, right between two churches. Her adult children still lived with her in their home: one blind and two deaf, blind, and intellectually disabled. Their abusive father abandoned them long ago.

The government cared little about these rural people. The two churches, within spitting distance, never troubled themselves with the family. They were, by many standards, forgotten.

Thankfully, however, our local partner became aware of this family and determined a way that we, temporary visitors, might make a lasting impact. Through some South American creativity and a lot of bamboo, we were able to make their lives easier, safer, and cleaner. We left feeling tired from work yet restless to know our effectiveness, discouraged by their past yet hopeful for their future.

This June we returned to the family’s home.

Our arrival was met not with the timid greetings of before but with a new and palpable joy. To my surprise, present at the home was not only the family, but a host of other community members. I was eager to see whether our work had been successful, and the locals were eager to show us that it had, in fact, not been in vain.

Just as exciting for me to see was that out of this home now grows a small business. Together with the community, members of the family weave and sell baskets (which we were more than happy to purchase).

A lot has changed since our first visit. I cannot be sure exactly why, but I have some ideas.

First, I trust that being shown God’s love, not only through our initial visit but through the presence of many others over the years, has reminded them of their worth.

Second, I am confident that having certain urgent physical needs met has instilled a hope that their future may be better than their past.

Third, I believe that working, for however long, has provided a sense of dignity.

This transformation in a South American village offers principles that we must remember as we seek community renewal in the United States.

First is the fact that struggling Americans need to be reminded of their value as much as this South American family. We often, intentionally or not, strip people of their God-given worth when we reduce them to whether they receive government support or not. The truth is that, regardless of wealth or status, all people are infinitely valuable. We ought to recognize and exemplify this reality regularly.

Only when our compassion is felt and truly experienced by those facing difficulties, specifically the unemployed, will our oft-heralded advice to pursue the dignity of work—the second principle the South American family’s transformation reveals—be received.

Work has always been part of God’s design for humanity. In the very beginning, even before the curse of sin, God placed Adam “in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).

John Piper writes that “God made us to work. He formed our minds to think and our hands to make. He gave us strength—little or great—to be about the business of altering the way things are.”

Therefore, we must promote work not because we’re sick of supporting others, but because we trust that God’s plan for humanity’s good is for us to work, and to work hard.

Witnessing the change of this family is just one of many formative and equally (if not more) incredible experiences from my time in South America. Most of these were, of course, more personal. This family’s transformation, however, demonstrates general and essential truths that we would do well to remember—namely the power of compassion, hope, and work.


MORE ON API Blog

Three Reasons Why You Should Care About Occupational Licensing Reform

During my years working in public policy, there have been a handful of issues that have gotten me fired up. Typically when I tell people about them, they have some level of understanding—a state lottery, education and school choice, taxes and budgets, things like that. These days, when I’m asked about the issue I most […]

What does freedom mean to me?

When most of us think about the Fourth of July, we think about pool parties, cooking out, fireworks, and spending time with friends and family. Others think about our love for America. Some of us even wait all year for an occasion to wear a t-shirt that has the Declaration of Independence printed on it. […]

Three Years After Obergefell

In June of 2015, same-sex marriage became legal in all fifty states The Supreme Court ruled in the Obergefell v. Hodges case in favor of Jim Obergefell, whose marriage in Maryland was not recognized in Ohio. Unexpected to most, exciting to some and alarming to others, the Obergefell ruling was hailed as monumental, final, and as historic […]

MORE ON Family

Alabama can do more for its military families

According to a recent survey, a majority of military family members do not feel that they belong in their local civilian communities. This means that less than half of military families that live in our neighborhoods, shop at our malls, and attend our places of worship feel at home with us. Why is this the […]

Using our tax breaks and bonuses for things that matter

“Crumbs”. That’s how House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi characterized the thousand-dollar bonuses and wage increases that companies are offering employees in the wake of federal tax reform. This description has, appropriately, come under attack. Walmart, Alabama’s largest employer, is spending around $400 million on employee bonuses. In fact, according to Americans for Tax Reform, over […]

Pro-Life Values Should Go Beyond the Ballot Box

By Brooke Bacak Voters in Alabama have great concern for the unborn. After Tuesday’s special election, many feel anguish over the loss of a reliably pro-life Senate seat, which could affect federal judicial appointments over the next several years. Without judges who respect the right of states to regulate abortion, pro-life voters feel especially helpless […]

MORE FROM Parker Snider

Three Years After Obergefell

In June of 2015, same-sex marriage became legal in all fifty states The Supreme Court ruled in the Obergefell v. Hodges case in favor of Jim Obergefell, whose marriage in Maryland was not recognized in Ohio. Unexpected to most, exciting to some and alarming to others, the Obergefell ruling was hailed as monumental, final, and as historic […]

Monopoly and Locksmiths

  I love the game of Monopoly. The hope that I will land on expensive properties first, the poker-esque bluffing, and the art of deal-making with unsuspecting friends makes for a great game night. Even though I love Monopoly, I don’t always enjoy it. When I’ve missed out on important properties and am mortgaging the […]

Our Elected Officials, a Mirror of Ourselves

“Who am I?” We are all, at some point, faced with this question. Some, more than others, have a considerably difficult time determining an answer (see Hugh Jackman’s character struggle with this question in Les Misérables). Although typically reserved for personal wrestling, this is a question Alabamians should be asking regularly, albeit in a different […]