The first verse of the Beatitudes is:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
Ironically, no one ever views anything that has to do with poor as good, much less blessed.
Not having sufficient funds is what a lot of my friends on social media like to talk about. And often I feel a lot of pity for them. Mostly because I can relate to their situation. If there was one thing I learned to do growing up, it was to do without.
Funny thing is ever since I came to Zambia I have yet to hear of any of my local friends complain about poverty. In fact, they are on the opposite always trying to prove to me that they’re not poor even though most of them have like zero money.
It’s a strange contrast.
One of my closest friends invited me to her house just the other day. It’s a tiny, three room hut located in the compound. At least seven people live there, and I have no idea how they fit or where everyone sleeps. The paint is chipping off the black and white walls and the tin roof has a few tiny holes in it, making me wonder how they manage in the rainy season. There is no plumbing and one small tap from which to get water. Cooking is done outside in the ‘kitchen’, which is a random wooden structure of random boards with a random wooden roof. It’s a weird thing. No one in the western world would ever call that a kitchen. Still, you can see the residents take very good care of their little home. They have a small TV and even a DVD player, the armchairs are torn up, but some pretty pieces of cloth cover this up. There is even a nice set of drinking glasses on the shelf. They don’t have much, but a few articles here and there show how the family makes the most of it. Not once did they complain to me about being poor, even though just a few days ago there was no food to put on the table. Rather I was told how this house had been left to them by their grandfather, and how the property was big. (Big is a relative term here. If any of my white friends would have had a property that size, sorry folks, but you would probably be telling me how small it is). The whole place was a matter of pride and they were pleased to show it off.
When I first entered I was of course a little taken aback by the squashed, dismal conditions, but by the time an hour passed I grew to love the little home, despite it’s humble, lowly appearance. There is no table there, and when the food was served, my friend invited me to sit on the floor to eat. Without thinking I went straight ahead. Despite my best efforts, eating nshima with my hands is always a bit of a messy affair and we had a great laugh how the beans and onion sauce kept dripping down from my fingers. Generally anything I do always sets everyone laughing, there is nothing funnier than a muzungu (white person) trying to learn the customs of the locals. Pity there was no one to film how they roared while I tied a chitenge around my waist. You’d think they were watching the greatest comedy of all time.
I had such a good time I was sorry to leave.
But the most interesting thing was the next day when I met my friend she told me,
“You know, my boyfriend was really shocked when you got down on the floor to eat with us. He was sure you wouldn’t do it.”
I was surprised. “Really? Why not?”
“Because you’re a white,” she replied. “He was really impressed though; said he knows quite a few whites but you’re not like any of them.”
I was touched, and at the same time just a little bit sad. Sad that there are those in this world who are so used to the comfort and customs of the western world that they cannot bring themselves to sit on the floor of a humble hut and eat food with their hands.
When Christ left His home in Heaven and became a man that He might understand men, he did not show up in pomp and splendour. Rather He walked the dusty roads in the clothes of poverty. Foxes had holes and birds of the air had nests, but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head. He was never ashamed, never hesitant to stoop down to the lowest of the low and show them the love of His Father.
In the same way He calls His disciples to follow in His footsteps.
A few of my white friends couldn’t believe I wanted to go visiting my friend in the compound. “Why?” They asked. “It’s the compound. White people don’t go there. It’s dangerous.”
My reply? I didn’t come here to enjoy the luxuries of the rich, if I wanted that I would have stayed in Russia. I came to partake of the poverty. I came to share in the hardship. I came to love the lowly, as my Savior loved them before me. I don’t know how to be rich. I don’t know how to enjoy riches. I can’t.
The other day I was asked where my dream home would be. I was a little shy to reply that it would be the compound, the slums, any place where the poor and the outcast live. I have nothing to do in the beautiful part of the world. It doesn’t need me. It is the wretchedness that calls to my heart. Those are the places that need to be made beautiful.
I know what I risk going to the compound. I know germs and disease are on every corner. I take as many precautions as I can and have faith for the rest. Spending too much time in the better neighbourhoods makes me depressed and restless.
Not everyone is called to the compound, but I believe everyone is called to make the world beautiful. In their own special way they can change a little part around them.
Life isn’t supposed to be about compaining of how little you have; it’s supposed to be about searching how much you can give to others. And it doesn’t have to be material things, the gift of time and the gift of love can often go a lot farther than money or possessions.
After all, is it not more blessed to give than to receive?