"Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony." (Luke 16:25 - from Jesus' parable/story of the rich man and Lazarus.)

In a recent article Ronald J. Sider drew pictures of the poverty existing in much of the world. There was the 9-year-old boy who could not go to school because his father could not buy his books--which cost less than one evening of entertainment here. He spoke of an infant daughter dying as parents helplessly watched, unable to afford what we regard as common, inexpensive medications.

He spoke of the poverty circumstances of 1.3 billion people: no furniture (except used blankets, a table, a wooden chair); one change of clothes and pair of shoes (except no shoes for children or women); no appliances; a kitchen furnished with a box of matches, a small bag of flour, some sugar, some salt; no bathroom; no running water; no electricity; no house--just what we would call a shed.

There is no reading materials (magazines, newspapers, books)--just a simple radio; no government services; a two-classroom school 3 miles away; a clinic with a midwife 10 miles away; no postman; no firemen. Most of these 1.3 billion people exist on less than $1 a day. Over half the world's population exists on less than $2 a day.

Unimaginable! I remember my father's first impression of our pictures of rural West Africa. He said, "I would not live that way! I would take my hammer and nails and build something different!" I asked, "What if you had no hammer and no nails were available?" Dad simply could not grasp such poverty--he had never seen it! His shock and our shock are quite similar.

The significant question: how do we "handle" wealth? Do we let it make us feel arrogant, or superior, or guilty, or selfish, or just not feel? Do we think our blessings prove God loves us more, or we are more deserving, or we are more focused on God's ways? Are we our god, are our possessions our god, or is the Father of Jesus Christ our God? Are we blessed to be indulgent, or blessed to be a blessing? Where is the balance between having and helping?

American missionaries living in third world countries confront an unfamiliar inner tension. Commonly they left an amazing living standard to teach people in a stark existence. After learning a shocking truth ["money is not the answer"], they must deal with their prosperity as they live in the midst of dire poverty. The comparison is never with what they left, but always with what they see. I have never known a conscientious missionary who did not struggle with the tension of possessing. It is not as simple as giving wealth away. The eternal question: "What is helpful?"

For us, the issues are always these: "What is life's purpose? Who am I? What do I do?"

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 13 June 2004

 Link to next article

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell