The Privilege of a "Get To"

By Donna Thomas

October 26, 2018

"But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" (I John 3:17, ESV)

When I was growing up, I had a list of "get tos" that brought me a lot of happiness. According to the English stack exchange, a "get to" is an opportunity, a positive experience enabled by another person or life situation. "I get to go to Cedar Point again" was a favorite summer proclamation. Also topping the list were "I get to play in the marching band" and "I get to pick out a new bike for my birthday."  Just the anticipation of these "get tos" brought a quickening in my heart and a smile to my face.

Disregarding possible grammar infractions, I've been saying "get to" on a regular basis, and for good reason. I get to spend more time with my wonderful daughter, extra-special son-in-law, and five sweet little grandchildren in Minnesota. This "get to" presently trumps all others.  And I couldn't be more delighted.

Sadly, a lot of folks aren't getting a whole lot of "get tos" these days. Click on a news site or pick up the paper and you'll find humankind, locally and globally, struggling just to get basic needs met. The current climate of food insecurity and impoverished third world families is beyond comprehension. These realities hit me hard while engaging in what I thought would be a carefree activity: picking berries at a family farm.

I had intended to spend a little morning quiet time with God in a field of raspberry bushes and relax under blue skies. I was feeling happy and free because I got to do something just for me. But that something quickly dissipated. Clouds were forming and the threat of rain hung in the air. Raspberries were too pricey so I chose strawberries, and the young man helping me find my picking lane wanted to chat.

Significantly unusual about this summer activity were my companions in the field. In past outings, I worked alongside people who were similar to me: mostly white, Americans, some Moms with kids, some women my age, and a few men that were available for a leisurely outing. This time I was berry picking at a migrant farm. I was the only woman in the field, the only white American in the field, and obviously the only white American woman that was in the field because she "got to."

My talkative helper, Danie, was an eighteen year old on a work visa from South Africa. A little probe about his choice to live in Minnesota encouraged Danie to share openly. This particular Midwest farm allowed him to gain more skills in his specific agricultural interests.  Danie explained that because of discrimination, it was imperative to seek work elsewhere to pay for university classes in South Africa where he planned to study farming. "It goes like this," Danie continued, "the black man is the first in line for a job, then the black woman, then the white man, then the white woman."

Curious to learn more, I wondered aloud about the presence of gun violence in his country. Danie lamented the unresolved problem of men getting shot while working in the fields. He bemoaned the fact that "the shooters don't even take anything, they just murder." I listened quietly, painfully aware of my ignorance in matters of South African socio-political current events. (And this was Danie's story. I wanted to hear from his heart and personal perspective.)

A reel from my own country's discouraging news flashed in my mind. Highlighted frames of our society's immigration issues, discrimination, poverty, and violence played out on my screen.  How ironic that Danie left his own conflicted people group to travel nine thousand miles for an agricultural experience in yet another troubled land. Our verbal exchange of experiences uncovered a commonly shared pain.

On a lighter note, when I asked him how he liked America, he blurted out, "I've never seen a store as big as Wal-Mart!" I smiled, but inwardly cringed, and mumbled something into a clump of strawberries about Americans liking their stuff. Changing the subject, I asked about getting settled here.

Moving into a building with several others was hard at first for Danie. Sharing two stoves and one shower created tension among the men. Danie said they "eventually worked it out, we agree to ninety second showers, and now we're all doing better."  His fellow workers included three other South Africans, a few Croations, and several Mexicans. I thought to myself that considering all the cultural differences and language barriers, doing betterwas a great accomplishment. Danie felt he was a fortunate laborer since this work was a short term commitment. He would be going home soon to family life and a college education.

As we talked, thunder started to rumble and raindrops began to fall. I was able to get in a few more questions while filling my pail of strawberries. My earlier grumblings about losing out on Me Time faded. I urged Danie to share more about migrant life.

His crew began their day in the fields at 5 am. and finished about 10 pm. Raincoats were available and weather was not a deterrent.  I glanced at the men hunched over the fruit, and remembered the Mexican children in my elementary music classes years ago who traveled to Northwest Ohio so their parents could pick tomatoes. I felt sorry for the boys and girls who left my classroom in a few short months for farms farther south. Making friends was difficult enough when their skin color didn't match those of fellow students. But to move from school to school had to be disorienting at the very least. I had so many questions. Where did the children go after school while their Moms and Dads toiled on the farms? Would enough money be made in the fields to truly feed their families when they got back home? Did these folks have any fun together at all, or was life one dreary day after another?

A harder rain forced my thoughts back to the present and urged me to finish my conversation and hop into the car. Danie instructed me to back out of the fields because the road forward was quickly becoming a mud pit. While guiding my Subaru with the use of a rear view camera, I thought about how a well-equipped vehicle is yet another taken for granted get-to privilege.

I drove to the stand to pay for my berries as the rain on the windshield mirrored the wetness on my cheeks. Tears fell for people who spend their days stooping over a patch of fruit, for people who leave their homes in order to put food on their tables, and for families who move their kids on a continual basis.

In a row of strawberries, my get-to life bumped into a have-to world.  Humbled by my privilege, my heart opened a little wider to the tired and poor. God took me to a new place I had not planned to get to.

Compared to most of the world's inhabitants, my life overflows with time to do what I choose, good health, and more than enough money. Spending these resources to be with each of my long distance children will always be my greatest get-to privilege.

And yet . . .  I wonder if a morning in a migrant field will alter my spending habits.

If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need . . .

 


Donna Thomas is a recent retiree from  Ashland Seminary where she taught healing ministry through the Institute of Formational Counseling and pastoral counseling in the doctor of ministry program. Currently Donna is serving at Park Street Brethren Church as Community Garden and Community Outreach Coordinator. Donna and her husband Jim divide their time between Ohio and Minnesota where her daughter, son-in-law, and five grandchildren live.

 

This blog post was used with permission from Donna Thomas and first appeared on her blog, Season Six(ty): Life in the 60 Something Years.

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