I must confess that many of my ideas for columns originate from conversations with my friends and family. In fact, more and more after becoming engaged in a discussion about something remotely curious or unusual or fascinating, I find that folks often say to me, “You could write a column about that!” Which is true, I could write a column about any number of topics, but they have to spark my interest or else it just won’t pan out. So this week it happened again. I was driving somewhere with my teenage daughter and we were talking about Third World Countries and she asked me, “What is the difference between a second world country and a third world country?” Since I didn’t know the answer it triggered me to do some research and share it with you guys…
Apparently the term “Third World Country” originated sometime after World War Two. No one is credited with coining the term exactly, but geo-political pundits began classifying the countries of the world into four categories. First World countries describe democratic, capitalist industrialized countries influenced by American principles. Second World countries were composed of all then eastern-bloc communist-socialist states. The term Third World applied to three fourths of the remaining world countries which were neither considered democratic nor communist and were often described as ‘developing’. Fourth World nations were those considered yet to be discovered indigenous and native peoples who are not even recognized as political powers per se.
These are the official geo-political definitions of these terms, although in common usage, we seldom hear any of them applied except for Third World. The use of this particular phrase also is often applied widely to any area of the globe that is considered to be less advanced or somewhat primitive regardless of its political affiliation. In fact the term has become so ubiquitous in some ways that it is almost a cliché and devoid of real meaning, hence the conversation between my daughter and myself. We discovered that we really had no clue what ‘Third World’ referred to, despite the fact that we use the phrase often in conversation.
Our discussion revolved around my daughter’s growing interest in pursuing a career as a doctor and hopefully taking that training to other countries where opportunities are limited and needs are great. She would love to participate in Medical Missions trips where “First World” medical professionals travel to “Third World” nations to educate the local doctors and nurses and treat the local people. She has been talking about this dream for months. This past week when I was having lunch with a friend of mine, she (my friend) was talking about her daughter and son-in-law who are going on a medical missions trip to Honduras this coming summer. How ironic! Actually, that’s what I call a “God thing” and not a coincidence at all. Although my daughter is interested in pursuing this goal, we really had no clue where to begin or how to proceed.
What kind of college should she apply to? What should she major in, medicine or missions or both? How does one go about finding an organization with which to affiliate to open doors to these Third World countries? Where do we go to shift from dreaming to doing? Who knew we would discover a friend of the family with a connection that is too good to be true. Well, God knew, that’s who!
I don’t know when my daughter will ever get beyond her ‘First World’ dilemmas of technology glitches and comfort disruption to experience authentic need and genuine deprivation. But the future looks promising that one of these days she will leave her First World problems behind and venture off to some Third World nation as she follows her dreams. Only God knows!