Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Vegas mindset (U.N. Pt. 3)

"You're so money baby and you don't even know it!"

I hate asking for money - with a passion. So much so, that I'm decimating my bank account as I spend time overseas. A few friends help me out from time to time, but for the most part I'm living off past jobs (this probably points to my pride more than anything else). My limited resources definitely impacts how I live out here. There are people I haven't been able to help and things I've had to say no to because I didn't have the funds, I'm not sure this is good. At the same time, I don't think it is altogether bad.

As a white person I'm constantly racially profiled, not to the same negative effect as some different races in America, but profiled and judged none the less. People see me and treat me by my race before they get a chance to know me. Beggars chase me down, kids passing me on the street ask me for bikes and sponsorship, others ask for jobs, and everyone assume I'm rich. After all, America is like heaven, nothing bad ever happens there and we all live in mansions. People don't believe me when I tell them America has dirt roads and homeless people, or that anyone in Uganda with a job has made more money than me in the last year and a half.

Here is where this sucks. When in a developing country I constantly find myself questioning who my friends are or why people try to be my friends. Most Africans are nice people who are genuinely friendly and happy to have visitors in their countries (drawing on a couple years travel experiences), differentiating these people from all the others who think I'm a walking ATM is painfully difficult and makes me cautious and defensive toward anyone who is nice to me or want's to have a conversation - this SUCKS! I've totally blown people off, because I didn't want to get scammed, only to find out later they were legit. This does not make you feel good about yourself. At the same time it's freaking frustrating when you are having a conversation with a new person, everything seems to be going great, and then this person, a stranger up until a few minutes earlier says, "so... I was wondering... could you..." and I realize they were playing me the whole time, building up for a request you or I would only make of a close friend.

Here is the dirty little secret of poverty, money doesn't fix it. Properly used it can be a powerful, and perhaps necessary tool in the fight against it, but in and of itself money can actually make things worse. As charitable westerners, who want the feel good freedom of throwing money at problems and walking of with our arms held high like victorious prize fighters, this can be an unwelcome lesson to learn. Struggling economies can be destroyed by large influxes of relief cash, the shipping of excess food from America to countries in need can create dependence and deeper problems because local farmers, unable to compete with the charity, lose their jobs or stop farming.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't help our neighbors, just that we need to learn what true help looks like. In general we have brought our stereotyping on ourselves, content to settle for the "easy fix" cash and fancy presents represent, we've often neglected relationship and long term commitment to our neighbors. Not surprisingly, the people getting the presents are willing to accommodate lack of commitment.

Some simple truths #3: Churches, ministries, and communities need money. God doesn't. Our plans have often been impacted, stymied, and changed due to our finance or lack there of. God has never been impacted by a lack of money. The more time we spend asking what God wants to do, and the less deciding what we want to do, the more likely we are to find we have exactly enough to accomplish God's will. Give, give often, but don't limit your giving to your bank account, it is very limited in what it can accomplish... you aren't.

One of the challenges of STM, and to a certain extent long term missionaries, is the allocation of resources. There are four STM teams coming to my part of Uganda over the next 4 months. Their airfare alone will come over $100,000. If this money were simply given to the locals for specific projects, a lot more physical development could be accomplished. If the visitors truly cared about the community and making a difference, wouldn't they just stay home and send money? I used to wonder about this, but not anymore. First off, anytime you spend money on coffee, clothing, entertainment, cars, vacations, etc. you are choosing yourself over someone else. We spend most of our money on things that are unnecessary or nicer than what we truly need. As extravagant, and seemingly irresponsible, as STM spending is there is something they offer that sending cash, buying $100 jeans, and drinking $5 coffees don't, the opportunity for relationship. There are stupid uses of money that a lot of STM and missionaries make, but the cost of them being there isn't one. If you want to judge the lack of financial stewardship represented by STM, when there are so many people starving and dieing of diseases, you expose yourself to that same criticism every time you open your wallet. Maybe this is a good thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment