Since I can't bring you all to Uganda with me I know its relatively impossible to convey the realities of life for the everyday Ugandan. We're reading "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger" for class and I think this passage paints an accurate picture of the circumstances with which 2.6 billion of our poorest neighbors contend every day.
"We begin by invading the house of our imaginary American family to strip it of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, television set, lamps. We will leave the family with a few old blankets, a kitchen table, a
wooden chair. Along with the bureaus go the clothes. Each member of a family may keep in his "wardrobe" his oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. We will permit a pair of shoes for the head of the family but none for the wife or children.
We move to the kitchen. The appliances have already been taken out, so we turn to the cupboards...The box of matches may stay, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt. A few moldy potatoes, already in the garbage can,must be hastily rescued, for they will provide much of tonight's meal. We will leave a handful of onions, and a dish of dried beans. All the rest we take away: the meat, the fresh vegetables, the canned goods, the crackers, the candy.
Now we have stripped the house: the bathroom has been dismantled, the running water shut off, the electric wires taken out. Next we take away the house. The family can move to the toolshed...
Communications must go next. No more newspapers, magazines, books-not that they are missed, since we must take away our family's literacy as well. Instead, in our shantytown we will allow one radio...
Now government services must go. No more postman, no more firemen. There is a school, but it is three miles away and consists of two classrooms...There are of course no hospitals or doctors nearby. The nearest clinic is ten miles away and is tended by a midwife. It can be reached by bicycle, provided that the family has a bicycle, which is unlikely...
Finally, money. We will allow our family a cash hoard of $5.00. This will prevent our breadwinner from experiencing the tragedy of an Iranian peasant who went blind because he could not raise the $3.94 he mistakenly thought he needed to receive admission to a hospital where he could have been cured."
Let me just repeat that 2.6 billion people live in this kind of poverty every day. Don't just read that number and move on. 2.6 billion individuals. That's approximately of the current world population.
I hope the chair your sitting on just got a little less comfortable, the dinner you'll eat tonight won't taste quite as good, the television you'll watch won't be quite as entertaining.
I hope this makes you incredibly uncomfortable.
- In Africa only 41% of the population is literate.
- Every day 6,000 children in developing countries die because of a lack of clean water and sanitation.
- Every day in Africa 6,000 people die of AIDS.
- UNICEF estimates that the total cost of providing basic social services in developing countries, including health, education, family planning, and clean water, would cost $30 to $40 billion per year. The rich of this world spend more than this on golf every year.
Maybe you don't play golf. I don't think that's the point.
Recently we spent two weeks living with a family in the Mukono area. The home I shared with Robert and Jemimah is undeniably bare. There are two small rooms altogether not much bigger than my dorm room at Malone with only a curtain to separate them. There is no running water, limited electricity, and dinner is cooked over a foot wide charcoal stove.
Besides my homestay traveling to and through Kampala (the capital) has largely informed my perspective on life in a traditional Uganda setting. Walking through slums with Robert breaks my heart while he seems not to notice. It's like a slap in the face realising that the three street kids begging me for money or food are the same age as Ben, my little brother. He's seven.
I came to Africa in order to ascertain my ability to live in a developing country and share in the life of its people. My passion has been to eventually work for an organization doing economic development and humanitarian relief in areas like Uganda. I think in my American arrogangce I assumed that people here were unhappy and I wanted to be able to help resolve that. Yet most of the people I've met, with Robert and Jemimah being the prime example, don't seem to be unhappy. In fact its often quite the opposite.
I had assumed that my time in Africa would help me know where to start. I've desired a personal connection to those who were suffering in order to serve them in a substantial and meaningful way. The strength and tenacity of Robert and Jemimah's relationship despite their meager circumstances forces me to rethink a basic element of my worldview. I know that my own life as a typical American is not ideal but neither is quality of life for most Africans. What does life look like as God intended it especially within the context of our fallen world? This is the question I've most often struggled with during my inital time here.
It's hard to ignore that Jesus was essentially homeless. I guess at a basic level I'm wondering where the line between poverty and excess begins and ends. And where am I as a Chrsitian supposed to find myself and help to locate others on this spectrum?
I think Sider puts it well in "Rich Christians",
"I feel absolutely confident, however, that the biblical understanding of "economic equality", or equity, demands at least this: God wants every person and family to have equality of economic opporunity, at least to the point of having access to the resources nessecary (land, money education), so that by working resonsibly they can earn a decent living and participate as dignified members of their community."
I've realised since coming here the incredible arrogance the involves my view of the poor. I think I can fix them, solve their problems, change their life. And maybe someday with a lot of grace and humility I'll be able to. Right now I'm learning how problematic it is to simply lump together a huge percentage of the population as "the poor". "The poor" are people. A passage from Bryant Myer's "Walking With the Poor" has revolutionised my mindset when considering those less forunate than I.
"We need to begin by reminding ourselves that poverty is the condition of people whom we describe abstractly as "the poor". Referring to people by a label is always dangerous. We may forget that the poorare not an abstraction but rather a group of human beings who have names, who are made in the image of God, whose hairs are numbered, and for whom Jesus died. The people who live in poverty are as valued, as important, as loved as those who do not.
Why is this reminder important? The world tends to view the poor as a group that is helpless; thus we give ourselves permission to play God in the lives of the poor. The poor become nameless, and this invites us to treat them as objects of our compassion, as a thing to which we can do what we believe is best. We, the non-poor, take it upon ourselves to name them--homeless, destitute, indigenous, working poor, and so on. Talking about the poor as an abstract noun invites well-intentioned people of compassion to speak for the poor and to practice the latest fads in social engineering. The poor become custodians of the state, objects of professional study, or a social group to be organised. Whenever we reduce poor people from names to abstractions we add to their poverty and impoverish ourselves.
Our point of departure fir a Christian understanding of poverty is to remember that the poor are people with names, people to whom God has given gifts and people with whom and among whom God has been working before we even know they are there."
People who Jesus loves and has mandated that we love as well. They are just as much my brothers and sisters and those who share my blood and last name.
After spending only six weeks here I can't imagine returning to America and being able to enjoy the excess to which I am accustomed. To ignore their suffering is to ignore Christ. To be aware and not take action is inexcusable.
"This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place." -Jeremiah 22:3