DR Update and… Are There Benefits to Being Materially Poor?

October 17th, 2011

I just snapped this picture.  It is the view out the double doors in my bedroom:

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I think it’s technically jungle around here, but it seems to me more like “jungly forest” if there is such a thing. 

Oh, and I can see the ocean far better in real life than in the picture above.  It’s the view I wake up to every morning.

Highlights of this past week include 1) having a Mexican supper over at Jon and Shannon’s, then watching videos of their ministry after 2) snorkeling in clear ocean water with tropical fish 3) playing a Sunday afternoon game of baseball with the boys and 4) jogging/walking to town and back (~7 miles).

Not much else to report.  Life is pretty much in a routine here.  Eat, work, play, hangout, go to church.  Once again I find myself in a community where I eat, work, play, hangout, and go to church with the same group of people.  Which I enjoy.  Bonds happen quickly in this type of environment.

I’m currently reading What’s So Amazing About Grace by Phillip Yancey.  If you haven’t read it yet I recommend it.  His thoughts are deep, but his style is conversational and he tells lots of stories so it’s quite readable. 

The main thing I’ve been impressed with from the book is how much God’s gift of letting me be his friend is totally free.  I can’t earn his favor, He simply offers his unconditional love to me in the face of my spiritual poverty because… that’s what he does.

Notice how I wrote above that I am spiritually poor?  It’s true, I’m quite poor spiritually.  Which in some ways is a good thing as there is a blessing associated with that type of poverty (see Matthew 5:3).  It’s odd to think being poor in any category would be a plus, but according to how I read the Be-Attitudes in Matthew 5, the journey towards God begins with an acknowledgment of spiritual poverty. 

I was recently struck with a verse I read in James on the subject of poverty:

“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith…?” (James 2:5)

On this trip I have seen very materially poor people and in certain cases been immensely impressed at how they live their lives by faith: In faith they look to the Lord for the daily supplying of their needs.  The words in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today our daily bread” hold literal meaning for them. 

I’ve seen those who have their faith stretched far more than mine because I have money to cover my needs (and enough to even cover most my wants as well). 

For instance, my translator (and his immediate and extended family) have many pressing needs that are easily fixable with cash, but he can’t fix them that way because…. he doesn’t have enough cash.  In fact, he hardly has any.

And it’s not just locals who are materially poor.  I’ve gotten to know a missionary family who basically live on financial fumes and I can tell it wears on them… even though they try not to worry.  God is stretching their faith in real ways because they are living at the end of their financial rope.

So that verse in James really resonated with me because it is what I have seen and experienced recently.

Almost enough to make me want to go broke myself.  Give all my money away and live by faith.  But not quite, I still enjoy my savings account.  In fact, my materialistic side has gotten quite the best of me recently – it’s really quite bad!  In the past several weeks I’ve bought a number of things online that I “needed.”  My return to the states will be kinda like Christmas.  But I really needed those things, believe me.

I heard a quote recently along the lines of how our giving often conceals our withholding.  I would say that is true for me.  There have been times where I’ve given generously but then as a reward turned right around and given back generously to myself.  Can’t remember if I’ve ever given to the point where it hurt. Don’t think I have.

I heard of a guy recently who was known as a philanthropist by any standard, he gave away generously to many.  One day his daughter told him she didn’t think he gave away enough.  “What, me? Why do you say that?” was his injured reply.  She answered, “Because you never give to the point where it hurts.”

Reminds me of the story in the Bible about the widow who put into the temple treasury two mites.  The crazy thing is Jesus said she put in more than all the others… which astonished those who heard because others had put in large sums.  How did Jesus explain the math?  Here’s what he said:

“They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:44)

In short, she gave until it hurt, which is all the more remarkable because she had so little to give in the first place.

Seeing generosity firsthand amongst those who don’t have much is inspiring. 

One day while I was at the orphanage in Haiti a group of American’s came to visit for the morning.  They lined the kids up and handed out candy to each of them: little bags of gummy bears.  Remember, these kids don’t get much and their living conditions are dismal so this was a big deal for them – they were excited!  But what did they do?  Several came up and gave me theirs!  When I protested, they insisted.  One older boy (who I had gotten to know and had spent time with) gave me all his candy. He went through the line, then promptly walked straight to me and gave me his whole bag of gummy bears and wouldn’t listen to my protests. 

I remember feeling a mixture of emotions… special and touched at the gesture, anger at the overall situation, and frustration his generosity got in the way of accepting even this very small gift. It does speak volumes to the issue of dignity though. People yearn for dignity, and being able to give something to someone else yields dignity.

Jon (the director where I’m currently at) told a story about one of the full-time local staff who works here at the Ranch (practically family, a neat fellow I know) who doesn’t have much materially but is a generous man.  Awhile back a bag of donated tee-shirts came through and were given to him.  Jon said he’ll never forget how this man excitedly just opened the bag right there, pulled out the first shirt… and handed it straight over to one of the part-time construction workers standing nearby.  “Here, this is for you,” he said.  Jon said it was crazy how he didn’t even check to see if it was the right size or how many were left in the bag or which ones he might want to keep versus give away, he just started passing out tee-shirts.  On the one hand Jon was thinking, “Hey! these were for you, not for you to give away!” but on the other hand he was amazed at this fellow’s generosity.  The time lag between accepting his gift and giving it away was instantaneous. He could have taken them all for himself (which he was supposed to do) but instead gave freely and generously.

Not sure how I got off on this (lengthy) tangent.  Was just sitting here thinking I should write a blog post since it had been awhile and this is what came out of my fingers…

In closing, here is a picture of me washing clothes with my friend Jonas:

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2 Responses to “DR Update and… Are There Benefits to Being Materially Poor?”

  1. Amanda Carbon Says:

    Oh my goodness! I know exactly what you mean!
    I saw this in my own ministry experiences. It’s confounding, humbling, and convicting, all at the same time.

    The view = Awesome!!! (“I will not be jealous. I will not be jealous. I will NOT be jealous.”) 😉

  2. Seth Says:

    It’s a good thing that the beauty of nature belongs to us all… Rich or poor. You’ll have to share the tricks of handwashing clothes someday. The skill might come in handy!

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