Points to Ponder: The Poverty of Wealth

Points to Ponder
The Poverty of Wealth

Some of the youth in our community recently returned from a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. All three of the young people we talked to reported matter-of-factly that the children there are happier than the kids in the United States. They talked about the friendly, hospitable nature of the people, showed photos of some of the better houses they saw (most are shacks of wood, tin, and scraps of various materials), and the relatively plain food they ate. The electricity was unpredictable, often going off for hours at a time. Power black outs didn't stop their worship or study times. Those who had them read by the light of their cell phones.
One of the exciting things they were there to do was to give out the Christmas gifts. Christmas for them comes in January. The gifts, or gift, were a shoebox full of toiletries, a small toy or two, and other handy things we could easily pick up at the dollar store. But to these kids, it was all treasure. Imagine your child's Christmas or even their birthday presents being a few things wrapped up in a shoebox.
And our youth with multiple photos of smiling little faces, said, "They are happier than kids here in the U.S." I can't describe the tone of voice or the expression of the two boys and the girl who said that, but they were not surprised at discovering this fact. They didn't feel sorry for these "poor little children." In fact, it seemed that these children and their families were far wealthier than the team who had gone there to help them.
"Why were they happier?" I asked. The youth summed it up simply: "They don't have all the stuff we have here" - the video games, computers, Internet, cell phones, etc, etc. We're spoiled and distracted by all our stuff. Over there, they gladly share what they have; yet they seem to have virtually nothing. They find their joy in each other, having no need for the stuff, which we can't imagine life without.
I think our society is addicted to entertainment. I have tried to help people facing eviction, months behind on the rent, but the cable bill is paid. (I remind them that homeless people don't need cable.) Studies have shown that the average school-age child spends as much or more time in front of a TV or computer game screen as they do in a classroom. And as a pastor, I see some church leaders relying on entertainment- style methods. Churches "compete" with sports and other recreational activities. So many options are out there; church is the expendable one. We're so busy.
Then you look at those photos. The villagers have homes that wouldn't pass inspection here as a shed for your mower. Their church is a very basic structure you would not recognize as such if not for the sign out front. No mall to hang out at; no CD player hanging on headphones in their ears; no computer games; no this or that or a lot of other stuff. And they're happier.
When I've talked to missionaries who have gone everywhere in the world, from Venezuela, to Brazil, to Africa, to Haiti, I hear over and over again how much more fortunate and well off we are here in the U.S. But their children don't seem to know how unfortunate they are.
I've heard that in some places villagers will walk for an hour or more to go to church. It may meet under a tree, in a cinder-block building or in a tent. Their worship goes on enthusiastically for over two hours. They love to hear the Bible stories. They never seem bored. Yet back here, how often and how easily do we or our children whine about being bored?
"All the days of the afflicted are evil, but he who is of a merry heart has a continual feast. Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure with trouble. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred." (Proverbs 15:15-17)
What can we learn from this? Are we indulging ourselves and our children to death? Do we give them more stuff so we don't have to give them more of our time? Have we been confusing wants with needs? Perhaps we are not really sure what they need anymore.
I remember the little South Baltimore row house where I grew up. We could tell if someone left the basement light on because you could see it through the front room floor. My parents skipped meals and enjoyed few luxuries so mom could stay home with my sister and me. We were poor, but I didn't know. I am very thankful today that we were. Not that I wish for it, but my own children are unfortunately too fortunate. Our oldest girl notices how much more stuff some of her classmates have than we do; but she has no idea that we have far more than most of the families on earth.
As I grew up and ventured into the world and into God's Word, I learned about the truly abundant life. Jesus taught it to me.
"And He said to them, 'Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.'" (Luke 12:15)

Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship of Clear Spring, MD. These articles are also found at www.HilltopChristianFellowship.com