Finding Purpose in the Sugarcane Fields
A Look at the Sugarcane Fields
Is There Purpose in Life?
It's a pretty common question, isn't it? What is my purpose? What is this all for?
I've recently graduated from college, and I'm currently looking for a job. Not just any job, a career. Because what I do will give me purpose, right? Whatever job I get will define who I am for as long as I remain employed. Isn't that the first thing we ask someone new: What do you do for a living?
Living...what is living? Call me a heretic, but I don't think working 9-5 to pay the bills and impress people with your resume is considered living. What if you hate your job? What if you lose it? How will you be defined then?
When I was in the Dominican Republic last summer, I spent a week in the sugarcane villages near Haiti. These villages are called the Bateys, the French word for village. I struggled with finding purpose in life for these people who had absolutely nothing but a field of sugarcane to harvest and send off to the Americans. What the heck did they have to live for?
But that's when I realized a simple truth from the heart of Christianity. Wherever I am and whatever I am doing does not matter; my purpose is to worship God. It's a simple truth that's hard to grasp, but it suddenly made sense to me in the middle of this world of nothing. Here is an excerpt from the journal I kept while I was there:
Looking for Life
Life in the Bateys
Morning welcomes you with the roosters, goats, and a loud car horn, sometime before 6. Aside from the horn, it sounds so fresh in the morning. It sounds clean and new and inviting to another day of work. And what does a day of work look like in this village? Well for the men, they go out to the sugarcane fields. The boys will drive the cattle out to graze, wherever they can find grass. The children will run around and play and sometimes go to the nutritional center around noon for some lunch and singing.
In the Nutrition Center
There is actually a long building here with several classrooms in it, a school that goes up through 8th grade. There is another long building that the sugarcane company built as housing for their workers; a long, hard, concrete building. There are other houses around too, a church, a ball field, a watering hole, I think there's a store somewhere, and a park that the pastor had built, but that has not been maintained.
Around the Town
What is the Point?
And I must wonder, what is the point of all this? Where do they find meaning in their lives? I don't know because I can't talk to anyone, but my guess is their lives are about survival. This is coming from my American point of view, but I can't imagine what would motivate me to get up everyday if I lived here.
I guess to do the work that needs done for the day, just like Americans get up to go to our jobs. We certainly put a lot of stock in what we do for a living, but I think we need to separate what we do from who we are. The lives the people here lead do not define who they are.
Just because they live farther away from a lot of people, without electricity and big, heartless chain stores, they can still worship God and they still have each other. No matter where you live or what your job is, how good you are at it or how many resources you have, you still need people.
Life is not worth living for yourself.
Are There Answers?
Defining a Successful Life
What does it mean to be successful? I don't think you can write a definition to cover every person; you will have to ask the person himself, and the people he's touched, both positively and negatively. A successful person is one who can live peaceably with others and learn how to give to and gain from the people he comes into contact with.
What is life? Life is not earning good grades, but gaining knowledge. Life is not seeing the wonders of the world, but meeting the people of the world. Life is not searching for a spouse but searching for God.
And God will satisfy the longings of your heart. No matter where you live, no matter how poor and isolated and dirty, or how rich and impersonal and regulated, God is there and God will satisfy the longing of your heart.