Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Have you ever thought how blessed you are to have a roof over your head, hot dinner on your table and clean clothes to wear? Many of us forget how much we have until we no longer have it. During the summer of 2007, when I went for 1 month on a mission trip to Kenya, I learned a true meaning of bare necessity. As I walked through the slum of Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, I felt like I was in the surreal world. The smell of sewage was so strong that it made me feel sick to my stomach. Just when my nose began to adapt to this strange smell of poverty, my vision became blurred. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I felt numb to the surroundings and wanted some one to pinch me, so that I could wake up from what I thought was hell on earth. When I realized that this is not a dream, but a reality in which people live, then something clicked.
Despite horrible living conditions, people are different. They are happy although they live with bare necessities! They don’t have big houses; in fact, most houses had only one room and are built from mud. I can’t recall seeing a TV. Showers are luxury, especially hot water. Starvation is a natural state that many children experiencing on a daily bases. Clothes are simple and worn out, yet the joy that radiates from people is priceless.
Through tough economic times it is hard to find joyful people, but easy to find people occupied with fear for their future. In part we encounter fear is because we spend more than we have on things that we don’t really need getting ourselves in debt. The joy that I once experienced in Africa is unexplainable. As I remember making a vow in Kenya to live simple upon my return to the United States, it was quickly broken as I was immersed back in to the culture of "the more you have, the happier you will be". It took almost 2 years, when it was officially declared that we were in recession, for me to be reminded of the unexplainable joy that I experienced in Kibera. I began to look at my lifestyle, particularly at my spending habits. Many Americans justify their expenditure as necessity, but what if we all adopted the lifestyle of bare necessities of Kenyans and applied to our lives? We would all be better off and be filled with joy instead of worries.
First off, separate needs from wants. Ask yourself, do you really need cable TV and internet. Sure, you can find many reasons to justify the fun entertainment part of it, but I promise you once you forgo cable TV and internet, you will never miss it. The added bonus is more time spent with the family and less money spent on paying the bills.
Secondly, if you can not afford, don’t buy it. According to statistics, $2.6 trillion dollars in 2007 were spent on consumer debt. It is ok to live in a small house, drive old car and shop at consignment stores. Who are we trying to impress? The only people that are impressed by our spending habits are the banks who loan us money by allowing us to use their credit cards. If credit cards become a temptation for spending, cut them up and use cash. But remember the first point, separate needs from wants. Fridge breaks? You do need another one, but do you really need a new one? This way you will not spend money that you don’t have. The added bonus is less debt.
Last but not least, give. I promise that you will begin to experience joy by helping a friend or a strange in need. It is very rewarding to be able to give without asking for anything in return. When was the last time you looked through your closet and helped clothe someone? There are many people who can not afford new clothes and would be grateful for a pair of pants or a shirt. When was the last time you anonymously helped to pay someone's electric bill? There are many people who are hurting financially and what a blessing you can be to someone. The added bonus is seeing a person you helped smile.
As I continue to trust in the Lord for Him to provide for my daily needs, I want to encourage you to embark the journey of "bare necessity" with me. There are so many great benefits by living simple that I can write a whole new article just on this topic. But the greatest benefit of all is joy and not fears, no matter what state our economy is in. I would like to close this article with a quote from my Kenyan team member in hopes of reminding you of how blessed we are as a nation and individuals. She said, "I’ll admit that for awhile our American culture had me convinced that I pretty much rocked and that on my own power I had earned the right to live so comfortably. But when I went to Kenya, and looked into the eyes of a three year old orphan, I realized the only thing that kept me from being born into her situation, was God’s will. Each and one of us could have been born into Africa’s largest slum, and realizing it has made me more humble than ever before".