Last Sunday in church Pastor Don and Troy used the sermon title "What's in Your Barn?" It was a fitting sermon after the last three months. I can say that I have seen first hand how truly wealthy we are here in America . I can also say that I'm not sure that we're happier or more fulfilled. In fact, I think I've seen that the more we have the more we want and the less content we are. I don't know how to say it more concisely than that. Monrovia is the capital city of Liberia . Still, 3 years after the war, there is no public water, electricity, sewage, or acceptable roadways. The capital city! We get so upset if we go without electricity for 12 hours and they've gone years without it. Still I found so many people there who are wholeheartedly assured that the only course of action is to trust God. Many of them know that He is the only answer, they're just still waiting to see the practical responses to their prayers.
This is always interesting to me. Where do you think their deep trust in God comes from? How do you think they are so patient in their faith? -- is it cultural? different religious practices? And are there tangible ways that you see Monrovians faith where it is absent by Americans? I’d love to hear your answers if you are able to write about it. I think these are important questions to think about/discuss/implement.
The first paragraph above is part of a newsletter that I wrote after returning from Liberia. The paragraph in red is a repsonse from a college friend. The remainder of this entry will be my attempt at a response.
In the Western world or developed nations, we have so much. Even the poor have so much more than what is needed in many cases. There are those struggling to make it from day to day, don't get me wrong, but the vast majority in the U.S. have food, shelter, clothing, utilities, and we're all entitled to a free education. In fact, if we qualify, we even get free or very inexpensive health care. Not only do most of us have the majority of our needs met, we have abundance that is not even able to be comprehended by many in the world. I don't know all the statistics, but in the sermon I mentioned, one of our pastors gave several statistics regarding wealth. I think he said something to the effect that if you own a book you're among the world's wealthiest 5%. (Forget owning that book. Being able to read it is wealth we don't understand. So many of my patients just laughed at me when I asked if they had any education.) There were several other examples that he used. I'm sure they're available online. The details aren't my point. The point is, most of us have some sort of education and therefore, earning power. Many of us also receive some sort of wealth from our families such as free educations, inheritance, assistance over the years, etc. Even if we don't have much, most of us have the means to obtain life's basic needs. There are many social work agencies available to provide assistance for most of those that look for it. Sadly, we find it easy to rely on our possessions or means of obtaining those possessions. If we're sick we go to the doctor. If we're hungry we go to the grocery. If we want something new to wear, we go to the mall. If we want a bigger house, we take out a bigger loan.
For much of the world, our reality is an unheard of phenomenon. As I observed in Liberia this summer, there just aren't means for all in the world to obtain the basic needs of life as easily as it is here in the West. Like the first paragraph noted, there is not public water, electricity, sewage, or even acceptable roadways. If simple things like disposing of trash, sewage, and providing clean water are not a possibility or a reality, then other social programs are obviously far on the back burner, years in the future as the rebuilding process continues. When you hit rock bottom and have nowhere else to turn, what do you do? For centuries, the world has sought some sort of "higher power". There are many "higher powers" to be tapped into. This summer I became much more aware of the fact that Africa is a very spiritual continent, much moreso than most Western countries. Romans 8:9 says, "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ". So there are millions in Africa who either don't know Christ or have chosen not to follow Him. That means that they are worshipping, trusting, and being controlled by many spirits that are of Satan. It's a matter of, if not one, then the other. So...many turn to evil spirits, but there are also many who have learned of the blessings afforded by the Holy Spirit.
It's easy for us to assume that blessings refer to material possessions, but that's not even the beginning of it. There are the blessings of salvation, faith, healing, hope, family, beauty in nature, felloship with other believers, the Word, and so many others. As we begin to realize and appreciate them, we begin to find joy and peace in the midst of tragedy and suffering. Those, especially in Africa, who have learned to rely on the Holy Spirit, rather than evil spirits realize that they have a hope that cannot be taken away by poverty, death, hunger, pain, or any earthly power. The Holy Spirit affords a power we can't imagine if we only allow Him. I think that's where their patience comes from. I think that's where their faith is rooted. Most, in Liberia, at least, have no other choice. They can't go to a shelter or social work agency to obtain the help they need, in most cases. They have tried the worship of other powers that are not of God and they don't help, don't help for long, or bring harm. Any other "faith system" or "higher power" they might deal with worships a being that is dead. That's not the case for Christians. For those in Liberia who know Christ, knowing that He is alive and has not forgotten them is everything.
I have to say a bit of the patience is also cultural. Life moves at a much slower pace in much of the world. I have heard so many go on short-term missions trips and come home referring to Mexican time, Indian time, African time, etc. People frequently have to wait in long lines for any sort of service or event. It's not a big deal to them most of the time. If you apply for some sort of government service, it takes much longer than would be acceptable to us. That's usually dealt with patiently. If you come for a free surgery and have to sleep outside the night before and then wait until 6pm the next day to be seen by the doctor, it's still looked at as a privilege to have been cared for at all. So...if God doesn't answer your prayer as quickly as you would like or in exactly the same way that you like, you're ready to keep waiting.
I may have written about this in one of my letters, but it's worth sharing again. At one end of the ward in the hospital there was a map of the world with pictures of the long-term staff. Many times I walked by that map and patients would be there looking at it. There was more than once that I'm sure I was showing a patient a map of their country for the first time! Their eyes grew huge with amazement as the began to see how Liberia compared with the size off the entire world. One of my favorite things about my time on the ship was when a patient would look at the map, see where Liberia is, see how many other countries the staff had come from and then just look at me with tears in their eyes. "You mean you're not all from America?" I'd assure them that no, we had come from more than 30 countries. "God brought all of the necessary people here at the same time from many places to help Liberia, to help me?" Yes, with a smile, I would agree that God had quite a schedule to juggle. "OH! My God! He heard me! He knew I was suffering! I knew that it was good that He healed me, but I didn't know He did all this just for me!" More than once all I could do was stand there with tears in my eyes as they laughed or cried with joy. What a privilege it was to be God's hands and feet, to get to be the tangible resource to remind someone that, no, God has not forgotten you!
You know that when God speaks to one person suffering like that and He hears and answers that cry, that person is not going to be quiet! One of my patients told me that she was going to go home to tell all the Muslims in her village that they better wise up because their prophet is dead and her Jesus is still alive. I think that's what it all boils down to. When you believe that Christ is alive and loves you, how can you not find some strength in that, even when today looks hopeless?
1 Peter 5:10 says, "And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."