Ecclesiastes 8:15 So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.
Experiencing America after a month in the third world conditions of Uganda isn’t always a good feeling. It does get easier to step over the fence and not lose my stride with the more trips I make. The first time I ever went to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, it was our family’s first experience with wide spread poverty. I was deeply affected, and had long lasting problems returning to our materialistic home life. It was weeks before I could buy anything that we didn’t really need, and I admit, I was harshly judgmental towards everyone who complained about their luxuries not going exactly right for them. I challenged myself to not buy myself one personal thing for a month, and I didn’t tell anyone I was doing this. It brought to my attention how strong my urge was to have nice things. I learned to make some personal adjustments. (I saw I was chasing after the wind, living the vanity of vanities.)
Now I understand I was looking more at the circumstances of poverty, and less at the heart of the people. When I learned to look deeply into the heart of the people I meet, I don’t even notice the circumstances of their living. I know the lady who sells matooke day and night from a stool in the market with a deep laugh, a polite greeting and a careful smile could be my friend as easily as a member of parliament. A woman I respect more than anyone has sold coal her whole life while raising five children on her own. She’s my hero. The truth is I hope I am not assessed for my worth in dollars when someone considers being my friend. Shouldn’t I offer the same approach to those I meet?
When we went to the resort for the final days of our mission trip I felt like I had each foot on separate floating rafts. One foot was in the posh beautiful paradise that is much like home, and the other was on the poverty stricken hard working suffering side of life in Kampala. I am flexible, but I was trying to keep these rafts from splitting me into two pieces. It’s not an easy balancing task and requires some hidden, under developed muscles to keep it all together. The first time I ever took Phiona to a posh place for dinner, she threw her arms up in the air, looked in disbelief at the beauty around her and said, “who am I to be in such a place?” I said you are Phiona same as before you arrived here. Being surrounded by wealth doesn’t change who you are. I think it took me a long long time to really know that in the deepest way. When we came to the resort this time, she was just simply thankful to bask in all the beauty and share it with our fourteen children.
The turning point for me was when we made decisions not to go down the road that we see people with money go. We drive basic cars for a long time, we downsized our home, and we haven’t bought a second home with the ocean view that I really really want. Pause. Those things aren’t wrong, not at all. We just haven’t chosen them so we could go in a different direction. We are putting our extra dollars into ministry for orphans in Uganda. We are on an adventure like the stuff you see in movies! This is fun, hard, expensive, rewarding, and challenging in every way. We love it!! This ministry is our extravagance!
So when I have a foot on a posh island and the other foot in a slum, I am not confused. I am not burdened by the dichotomy. I know the outside isn’t what I look at or care about so much. I seek the heart of a person. I love to meet someone with a craving to learn, a heart of compassion for others, a good sense of humor, and a longing to know God better. And really the economic status of that person doesn’t matter for anything. We can’t take the stuff with us when we go, so why should we let it be so important while we are here? That’s not to say don’t have it at all, I just don’t let the stuff have a place of great importance in my life..
Donny was a bit uncomfortable when we ended our “mission trip” at a beautiful resort. I challenged him, “who made all this nature so beautiful?”…”are the people in this place less worthy of your mission than the people on the street?”…”who are we to determine what the mission trip is supposed to be?”…”do the rich not need prayer and the loving understanding of a missionary?”…”who are we to judge or decide?”
I have a security in my heart that allows me to glide from the posh gardens of a resort into the slums and hold a child with a bloated belly and not have to blink or choke. I’m not putting money as an idol in my life. I have been content with what God has given me at every stage in my life, the same contentment when my budget squeezed blood as now that it’s a little loose. I’ve been poor and even then I had the same gratitude to God for meeting my needs as I do now. I don’t pine for more. Contentment and gratitude are essential. I don’t define myself by what I have, I define myself by who I am in Christ, and the purpose I have in my life to help orphaned children. Follow the biblical standards of finance and freedom from the worship of wealth is guaranteed: give God what belongs to him first, save, be generous, and stay out of debt. At the end of the day when I can check off a list like that, who cares if I belong in the resort or on a mat over the dirt floor? I’m free to love. I can do both with gratitude.
At the end of his life as the wealthiest man ever to live, Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes after a long list describing there is a time for everything in chapter three:9-14 What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.