How can it be that we sit high above the Falls Creek snowfields in a luxury apartment while a million Haitians suffer the horrors of homelessness, hunger, disease and crime? Why am I allowed to enjoy the rooftop of the world while others have no roof at all? How do I balance gratitude for all I have with responsibility to those who have not?
These questions eat at my heart, I do not know the answers, and I came away on a two day vacation with my Favourite Wife hoping to listen for truth.
Almost half the world – over three billion people – live on less than $2.50 a day. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. According to UNICEF, 25,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death” (UrbanMinistry.com).
I grew up in a beautiful part of Sydney in a magnificent family home. We lived on the North Shore, in the suburbs that are often described somewhat acerbically in the media as ‘leafy’; where the beautiful people live in beautiful houses. And I loved it; enjoying sweeping views of the harbour and daily walks to swim or fish on any of several beaches. Our gang of cousins and friends enjoyed an idyllic childhood roaming the harbour foreshore bushland. We mastered several ingenious ways of getting into nearby Taronga Zoo, the most daring of which involved sneaking quietly through the North American Bison enclosure; far removed from other exhibits because of their smell. By about age 18, spurred on by an encounter with Mother Theresa, my adolescent instinct was to reject all of this and look for truth on the open road. I somehow found my way into the Gibson Desert as a junior missionary, carrying a mixture of guilt and denial about my silver-spoon homeland.
Renunciation, however, simply avoids the question, and is dangerously close to ingratitude. Gratitude is essential, I am deeply thankful to God for every experience of His world, and for the richness of my life that has allowed me the luxury of choice.
We cannot plead ignorance; our flat panel TVs bear nightly witness to the true state of the world. Nor can we plead impotence: an online gift to Haiti or Somalia or anywhere else on the planet can be made from most of our lounge rooms in a moment.
Nor does our own suffering acquit us, although I have learned that you can rarely guess the pain of another, no matter how comfortable their life appears. From my own recent medical predicament I can recall the faces of over 50 doctors who have treated me in 16 months, and yet in many parts of the world there is just one doctor to meet the dire needs of tens of thousands. Similarly, Karen and I feel we have earned our vacation because our little girl is in respite care for the first time in some nine months. We might sleep all night! But this sense of self-justification comes nowhere near answering the question: what must we do?
A Christian friend sent me this quote during the week: “Sleeping comfortably in our beds while 1000 million human beings are not just suffering but surely and painfully dying from deprivation in hopelessness and fear, speaks not of our conversion but eloquently of our complacence” (Anthony Gittens). My complacence troubles me immensely, as do the BIG questions of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility.
It snowed here in Falls Creek two days ago and it’s an acid test of my own insatiable appetite that I’m more than a little disappointed that the snow didn’t wait for ME! Surely God could have arranged that. In fact I have to make the ugly confession that my prayers and hopes were as much for the possibility of another snow fall as they were for the suffering world beyond the breathtaking horizon. Enough never seems to be enough.
Shortly after arriving home a mob of Kangaroos grazing over the road from our home spoke to me in a surprisingly impacting way. It’s a story for another day, but I was reminded that there is a divine purpose in our lives; that – if we are willing – we are in the right place at the right time, bearing great gifts that can make a world of difference.
In last week’s blog I firmly rejected any comment, warning against sugary platitudes. But this week I know that I do not know enough. I welcome your thoughts…
3 thoughts on “Living the Dream”
Hi Rod – I was tempted to comment last week, but took your adivce and didn’t, so thanks for the invitation this week!
Issues of poverty and justice are close to my heart, so your thoughts resounded loudly with me. I share your struggle with trying to balance the opulence of my life with the extreme poverty of so many millions. We want to ask God why he allows such an apparent disparity, but really we should be asking ourselves that question first. We live on a planet with enough resources to adequately feed all six billion of us. So does extreme poverty exist because God allows it to happen that way, or because the greed and indifference of the Western World has entrenched it.
So what do we do? I think Child Sponsorship programs are great. Not only does it give me the opportunity to give from my wealth, but the letters we share are teaching my children about the reality of the world we live in. I’m don’t believe for a minute that I’m going to fix the problem of world poverty (I’m leaving that to Bono), but I do know I can make a difference for the children we sponsor and their families. And I do take seriously my responsibility to bring my kids up with a good social conscience and an appreciation for the wonderful blessings we have around us in this country and community.
One of my favourite quotes is from Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, and has become a daily addition to my prayer life… “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”
(For anyone interested, we’ve sponsored children through a few organisations before settling on Compassion many years ago. We found them to be the most accountable for how the money is spent, they fund local initiatives rather than bringing in foreign ‘experts’ and they are the most unashamedly gospel focused of the bigger organisations.)
Wow – I just read that again and apologise for some of the spelling and grammar! I really shouldn’t post comments when I’m this tired!
Good thoughts Brad; we have found Child Sponsorship has been a tremendous opportunity in our family also. One of our daughters wanted her own sponsor child for years, and finally took one on the moment her own pocket money equaled the required commitment.