From Our Pastor: Several of my friends are now serving as missionaries in various parts of our world, and I am on their list to receive regular reports of their work. Recently, one of them wrote of their reflections on being American citizens, even as they are living in an impoverished corner of the world, where virtually everything is unfamiliar, political situation borders on unstable, and much about daily life is uncertain. Normally I would not include something like this in a church newsletter, but I am prompted to share this, in light of our recent presidential inauguration, where, despite great differences across our country, there was again the peaceful transition of national power.
From missionaries in Africa:
In discussing the problem of suffering with my African friends, we agreed that suffering is suffering, and we don’t need to decide who suffers the most. We also noted that those who suffer seem able to only concentrate on their own suffering (vs. the contemporaneous suffering of others) and that compounds the pain. Yesterday a nursing student demanded money to help his sick daughter. I explained that we couldn’t help everyone, and that, at this time, we felt compelled to help two babies with club feet and leprosy patients. Instead of considering that perhaps these people were worse off often than he, he redoubled his argument. I listened until I was exhausted and then I said, “I’m sorry.” Living abroad has given us a new perspective about America. At the risk of sounding overly optimistic, I would like to tell you why we are proud to be Americans.
Democracy. Every four years we get to elect new leaders. Here, with few exceptions, leaders only leave office when they are dead.
Legal system. The US has had its share of corruption, but eventually many government and corporate officials are prosecuted and go to jail. Corruption here is rampant and rewarded.
Freedom of expression. We can still print and say anything we want, even criticize the government. In many countries here, critics are imprisoned.
Food. Yes, food is expensive in the USA, but we still have amazing variety. Here, in addition to being expensive, there is little variety, and the quality can’t compare to that in the US. We are surviving on bread, tiny potatoes, white rice, beans, bananas, pineapples, and a skinny chicken now and then.
Electricity & Flush Toilets. Most Americans have electricity and running water. In Kananga, a city of a half a million people, there is no steady electricity (three hours at night) and no running water. The one permanent American resident in Kananga uses a hole outside his rooming house. We are close to a dam, which furnishes electricity to the hospital, but the hot water heater in the house has been broken for ten years (very expensive to replace), and we take baths by warming up two large pans of water on a stove.
Medical services. Despite the cost, the reality is that many Americans have access to medical care not available here. Bob has seen conditions that never would have gone as long untreated in the US. Even our county hospital in Chicago has far more equipment and personnel than the hospital here, which many consider to be the best in the entire country.
Books. While books may be beyond many people’s budgets now, still we have libraries with a marvelous selection of books. Here they are studying English without even dictionaries. Most have no access to newspapers, television, radio, or internet
Education. As desperately as we need to improve our schools, the fact is that even the poorest school in Chicago would be considered fantastically rich here. I teach in schools where there are no books nor computers, only blackboards for the teacher to write on. Students spend much classroom time simply copying from the blackboard into their notebooks.
Social services. As inept as may of our social services are, we still do have many safety nets in place. Here in cities, if a child’s parents both die of AIDS, some children are abandoned, although in the villages, extended families often take over care of the orphaned children. Unemployment is often 50-80% percent, with no unemployment benefits.
Roads and infrastructure. There are only 400 miles of paved roads in a country that is the size of Western Europe with 55 million people. Many roads are dirt, and when it rains, water washes out deep ruts and potholes. Also, it is difficult to get anything fixed easily
Parks. We take it for granted that cities have green spaces for relaxation and refreshment. The cities around here are oppressive, asphalt jungles with no greenery..
I do believe in the resourcefulness and ingenuity of Americans to solve their problems. as long as we don’t despair.
Indeed, some things to think about when we are tempted to grouse about not having enough, or about what other folks are doing these days. Older folks sometimes fear they won’t be able to live in the future as they have in the past, and younger folks fear they won’t have the same kinds of opportunities their parents’ generation had. These fears are relative. They are connected to an economic standard of living in our collective mind.
What our Christian faith can help us do is move away from envisioning the future in economic terms, and envisioning the future more in relational terms. When such occurs, surprising turns of events occur that we could not anticipate. Sort of like what Jesus envisioned, where relationships are the point and economics is just part (albeit, a significant part) of what facilitates them.
This being the season of Lent, perhaps we could spend some time thinking and praying about what this ‘wilderness’ might yield in terms of spiritual growth. There is nothing we can experience that Jesus has not already experienced, and there is nothing we can experience that Jesus can’t help us find a way through. What an incredible Savior we have – for all time – even this time – and for eternity.
Remember that I am with you always, to the end of the age.
–Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 28:20b