I find it fascinating to be be a part of two extremely different cultures. You and I may not realize it, but we are rich by most of the world’s standards. At this time of year we are encouraged to count our many blessings. But what do we really consider to be our blessings?
The Bible says we should, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:28. I am convicted by this verse. I do not think I really give thanks in all circumstances. This passage is meant for people in South Sudan, just as it is meant for us, in the West. I have heard some of my pastor friends say, “If it won’t preach everywhere, it shouldn’t be preached anywhere.”
My friends in South Sudan give thanks for things I might not consider to be much of a blessing.
Would I feel blessed if I lived in a mud hut? My friend Yar, who is a widow and is blind, is very thankful to God and Living Water CT for providing her with a home. Would I be very thankful if my children had to attend school outside everyday? The parents in Akot consider it a wonderful opportunity for their children to attend school, even outside. Would I rejoice because I could walk to a well for water daily? Women in South Sudan count it a blessing to have a water source within walking distance of their home. Would I praise God for being able to grow food for my family in drought conditions? Martha is very grateful to have a plot of land and a water source inside a fenced area to grow food. Would going to a literacy class in the afternoon after hauling water, working the garden, pounding and grinding grain for food be something I would rejoice over? The women in South Sudan consider learning to read as an adult to be a rare privilege.
I do not think I would be very excited about sewing clothes for my children inside a hut when it is 110 degrees in the shade outside, and even hotter inside the hut. Rose and Deborah rejoice over the blessing of learning to sew clothes for their family, and to be able to make garments to sell in the market. This money allows them to purchase necessities like medicine for their children when they are ill.
When I think about walking to a distribution center and waiting in a long line for a couple of sacks of food, my heart does not feeling like rejoicing. But the widows and orphans in South Sudan are very thankful for this help that God sends to keep their families alive.
Would I be so excited about being baptized that I would march a long way to a muddy river in a singing parade in the afternoon sun? New believers in South Sudan love to celebrate when they learn that they have a better life coming.
If I was very very poor, would I give to help others? Believers in South Sudan give out of their poverty to provide for others who are more destitute.
I have often heard that what is one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Maybe my values are distorted. Perhaps what I consider to be treasure is actually trash, and vice versa, from a spiritual viewpoint.
I am reading a book recommended by a respected missionary friend, “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”. Author Ronald J. Sider writes, “We need to make some dramatic, concrete moves to escape the materialism that seeps into our minds via diabolically clever and incessant advertising. We have been brainwashed to believe that bigger houses, more prosperous businesses, and more sophisticated gadgets are the way to joy and fulfillment. As a result, we are caught in an absurd, materialistic spiral. The more we make, the more we think we need in order to live decently and respectably. Somehow we have to break this cycle because it makes us sin against our needy brothers and sisters and, therefore, against our Lord. And it also destroys us. Sharing with others is the way to real joy.”
Though we have been working and teaching in Akot, South Sudan for the past 16 years, I think I still need to learn a lot from my South Sudanese brothers and sisters.