I have just returned from a very poor and severely improvised area of Southwest Uganda near the Tanzanian border. As I traveled into the bush visiting villages, I was struck once more by the meagerness of life there. Folks living in mud huts with thatch roofs, one room domiciles with no heat, cooling, stove, or electricity-no nothing. Living dirty, hard lives on dirt floors, drinking dirty water- it’s all dirty. Except the people themselves. Their clothes may be smelly and dirty, but they are sweet and good people. Many of them have become Christ followers and in the midst of their life struggle have found the joy of the Lord to be their strength. I admire that highly!
Which brings me to discuss our poverty of a different type. Somewhere in our American past, we fell in love with the idea of owning things. The more you own, the more American you are. We taught ourselves to measure each other by what we have and do, rather than by who we are. Our outer image became the perception of our reality. This my friend is a fatal flaw in our culture. Another mistake we have made is to take our Christian faith along for the ride on the bus called the “American Dream.” We have baptized our religion in the waters of wealth; and in so doing we have walked away from the teaching and disciplines of Jesus himself.
I agree with Oswald Chambers who wrote,
“The poverty of Jesus and the Twelve is an exact expression of the religion named after them-just you and God, the individual possessing nothing but being possessed by HIM.”
Unlike Christ who had no place to sleep at night, being the homeless, itinerate preacher he was, we have moved the Christian faith along a path from a Man, to a Movement, to a Monument to a Museum!
Poverty frightens the dickens out of us. We’ll do most anything to avoid it. Oswald Chambers says again,
“We have literally grown afraid of being poor, we hold in contempt anyone who intentionally chooses to simplify their life by pairing down and getting rid! If anyone does not join the mad scramble, and pant with the money-making street, we deem that person spiritless, and lacking ambition. We have lost the imagining what the ancient idealization of poverty could have meant.-the liberation from material attachments, the unbridled soul, the braver indifferent, the paying our way by who we are rather than what we have.”
Well said. So, here is my point, somehow lost in all this- Africa’s poverty has taught me many life lessons, not the least of which is to not judge a book by its cover or a man by his outer appearance. Some of the finest, noblest, bravest people I know have less “stuff” than you have in one small closet.
Our African Christian brothers and sisters do not chose to struggle or be without food and shelter, but they also are not willing to be defined by it. I have seen them come to a dirt floor structure they call a church house, and dance, sing, and shout for hours-rejoicing in a Savior who loves them, died for them, and promises to take them home with him someday! They are not poor in spirit, nor must we be rich in the wrong way, possessed by the wrong things. We are to be like Christ who, “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through His poverty we might be rich (toward God). 2 Cor. 8:9