For Abagail Nelson, the director of Latin American programs for Episcopal Relief and Development, shrimp in Ecuador are an apt symbol of both the inequity and complexity of economic issues that affect the developing and the developed world.
Nelson, a developmental economist, was one of three young people selected by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold to represent both the church’s response to globalization and to witness the possibility of global reconciliation at “God’s Mission in a Global Perspective” last week.
Nelson says her journey into the world of shrimp farmers in Ecuador helped her enter into a multitude of different points of view. “I became more committed to these webs of interrelatedness and more dedicated to holding their faces before me as I tried to reconcile their lives to my one of choice, travel and privilege.”
During her first visit to Ecuador as a 20-year-old exchange student, Nelson saw that much of its coastal economy ran on shrimp and became fascinated by how much Ecuadorians knew about the United States and how little Americans knew about them. Later, she returned to Ecuador to follow the shrimp trail from the water to the plate. In the process, she lived with larva fishermen, talked to shrimp farmers who were worried about illnesses that could decimate their harvests, learned how to throw a net and met activists who wanted to stop the farmers from cutting down mangrove forests.
Each of us must ask what kind of link in the chain we will be, Nelson said. But she doesn’t think it’s worth taking time to feel guilty for having clean water or nice things. Nor should we waste time trying to justify our way of life to others. Instead, she said, “I believe that God calls each of us to stretch ourselves to truly identify with another reality. Walk in another’s shoes for a while. See what the pebble feels like from his or her perspective.”
In this kind of intercession, each of us can redeem our own lives, Nelson said, and realize “there, but for God’s will, sit I. When we mutually enter into another’s space, we become part of a transformation of grace that leads us to dedicate our gifts to helping the marginalized, to those left out, the losers, the victims.”
This kind of thinking can be scary at first, Nelson said. “But God does not call us to be comfortable. He calls us to be whole. In wholeness we learn that oppressive systems limit the oppressor as much as they do the oppressed. In wholeness we reorder the priorities of our lives, our jobs, our purchases and use our gifts and talents, our education and our money so that there are no more victims.”
At the conclusion of Nelson’s presentation, the audience, obviously moved and impressed, rose and applauded her for a full two minutes.