Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thoughts on Poverty

I have been looking at the Human Development Index published by the UN. This is an index that ranks the countries of the world by compiling how they are doing in a variety of categories such as literacy, infant mortality, access to clean drinking water, sanitation facilities, life expectancy, access to health care, average yearly income, etc. The #1 country in the world is Norway. #13 on the list is the United States. And dead last at #182 is Niger.

Compare these statistics:

Life Expectancy in the US is 78 years.....Life Expectancy in Niger is 57 (That means, on average, I'm getting well into my old age in Niger!)

Adult Literacy Rate in the US is 99.0%....Adult Literacy Rate in Niger is 28.7%

In Niger 44% of the children under five are under-weight, and 50% of the children under five are stunted in their growth. We won't even talk about obese children in America.

The under-five mortality rate in the US is 8 out of 1,000, but in Niger it is 176 out of 1,000.

65% of Niger's population live on $1.25 or less a day.

42% of Niger's people use an un-improved water source (mostly in rural areas).

The US government spends an average of $3,074 per person on health while Niger's government spends an average of $14 per person. Let me illustrate, since a picture is worth 1,000 words. Here is an American health facility and below it, a Nigerien health facility.
Only 7% of Niger's population have improved sanitation facilities. I'm not sure what they mean by that....They have a flushing toilet? Or a latrine? I know many people who have neither and maybe that's what they mean. Again, two pictures to contrast life here and life there:
(this picture was our latrine in Tera, which we used when we didn't have any running water, which was about four months out of the year.)

You can find more such statistics here, here, and here.

So, why am I telling you this? Certainly not to make Niger look bad, because even though it is the poorest country in the world, but it's still a great place to live. People are what makes a place a good place to live, and I think if statistics could be formed based on friendliness, safety, etc. Niger would be near the top.

But, I want you to be aware of how others in the world live. Not everybody lives the way we are privileged to live. One of my questions for God will be why some of us are so blessed and so privileged while other people are so poor and struggle to obtain every bite of food they eat. Why can Americans live like this:while Nigeriens live like this:True, the house in Niger isn't much to look at, but are the people in the nice house necessarily any happier than these poor people?

With awareness should come involvement. How can you help poor people? Contribute to organizations such as SIM, Samaritan's Purse, and World Vision who help meet physical needs while seeking to meet spiritual needs. Get involved in the inner city. Go to a third world country as a missionary.

This song by Leeland really hit me and seems to sum it up pretty well: (You can listen to part of it here)

Follow You
You lived among the least of these
The weary and the weak
And it would be a tragedy for me to turn away.

All my needs you have supplied.
When I was dead you gave me life.
How could I not give it away so freely?

And I'll follow you into the homes that are broken.
Follow you into the world.
Meet the needs for the poor and the needy, God.
Follow you into the World.

Use my hands, use my feet
To make your kingdom come
Through the corners of the earth
Until your work is done
'Cause faith without works is dead
And on the cross your blood was shed
So how could I not give it away so freely?

And I'll follow you into the homes that are broken.
Follow you into the world.
Meet the needs for the poor and the needy, God.
Follow you into the world.

I give all myself
Yes, I give all myself.
And I give all you.

And I'll follow you into the homes that are broken
Follow you into the world.
Meet the needs for the poor and the needy, God.
Follow you into the world.

Another reason to share this with you is that we have a lot to be thankful for! Sometimes I just look at how much support we need to raise, or worry about how we will pay for college for the kids, or wish that I could buy that cute outfit at the mall, or look with longing eyes at the really nice house down the road. This website brings you a good dose of reality! The Global Rich List is a somewhat interactive site on which you type in your income and then it tells you what percentage you live in in the entire world. Let's say your income is $35,000 a year (and I know, here in America you are pinching pennies to live at that!). According to the Global Rich List you are in the top 4.62% income in the world!!! You can also play with the site using pounds, euros, Canadian dollars, and yen. (It is operated by CARE, which I don't know enough about to endorse, but the site itself is very interesting.)

So, this Thanksgiving....don't feel guilty for what God has blessed you with. Instead, be thankful and get involved!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

What's on Your Plate?

We all have too much on our plates! Here in the USA, we have noticed a real overload of information coming at us. There is so much to do, so many places to go, and people to see. People run from appointment to appointment, taking their kids here and there, attending meetings, volunteering, and working long hours. For now, things are actually a bit slower for us, without kids in the house and our work being mainly on weekends. We do have a lot of projects we are doing, but we can move at our own pace.

But in Niger, we know the true meaning of exhaustion. We work, are involved at church, deal with crises with our friends, and attend social events. The amount of work is what wears us down....there are so many extreme and desperate needs in Niger and so few workers and we just drive ourselves to do more to help more. Many of our co-workers are on the verge of burn-out and we have been there, too.

So, what is on our plates? Each of the items on the plate represent something.

First, there is money. Without money you can't live and so money becomes a major focus in our lives. The dollar bills represents our finances, our investments, our spending and giving habits.

Next is a ball.This represents our past-times and hobbies. Maybe your favorite way to relax is to play sports or to watch sports. Maybe it is music, sewing, reading, or hiking. The possibilities are endless. Hobbies are good because they help us relax, but they can also become all-consuming.

We also find a pair of pliers on the plate. This represents our work. We have to work to provide for our families. We need to pay for shelter, food, entertainment, etc. Not only do we work to earn money, we work because it is fulfilling to us.

Another thing on the plate is this flashy little sports car.This represents our possessions, the things we own. We own houses, cars, clothes, books, etc. Some of us own things that are important to us and other people can't understand why we would even want to have something like that....such as a musical person might own a piano while a sports-minded person might own a fishing boat.

Next we find a CD on the plate.The CD represents all things electronic such as computers, TVs, DVDs, Facebook, email, etc. Most of us make good use of electronics, but they can also consume much of our time, in both good ways and in bad ways.

This pencil is also on the plate.This one is for all the students and it represents studies, homework, school, getting an education. School consumes a lot of time and there is a lot of pressure on students to perform well.

And then these dolls are on the plate.They represent our relationships. They remind us of our families, our friends, our co-workers, and even those people we find it hard to get along with. God made us to need each other and He expects us to care for those in our care and to bear each other's burdens.

But with all this stuff on my plate, it is hard to find time for the most important thing. It seems like I'm forgetting something! Oh yes, it's Jesus! With all the other good and important things on my plate, it is so easy to forget the most important thing. I am nothing without my relationship with Christ, but He is often last in terms of how much time I give Him.

We were challenged during our Home Assignment Retreat to take time for a Sabbath rest each week. For some people that may not be Sunday...that is especially true for pastors and others involved in ministry. But for me, I really want to take Sunday afternoons to just spend extra time reading my Bible and praying, reading good books, and even sleeping. I read recently that God gave us the Sabbath because it is an intimate day, a day to be spent with Him. On that day He gives us something that can't be gained on the other six days of the week. I know there is a danger in getting legalistic about the Sabbath, but I really do believe I will do better if I take time to stop the frantic pace one day of the week and focus on what, or I should say who, is to be the main thing in my life.

And, no, I can't take any credit for this illustration. We saw another missionary at a conference use this illustration. It really hit home for both John and me. John has now been using it during his message and I decided to share it with you here. I am a visual learner. My dad used to say, "Do I need to draw you a picture?" Well, yes, actually, that would help. And so this is my picture to remind myself to clear my plate and let Christ be most important.