Traveling from a poor, third-world country back to the United States is arguably the quickest way to become grateful. Within mere moments of landing, you, the American, realize just blessed you are, and vow to never forget to thank God for what He has blessed you with.
Then, two weeks later, you find yourself back in the rhythm you left behind, quite willing to take life for granted. I’m no exception. It is so easy to get caught up in the flow of today’s world, and forget to thank God for the little things.
Hamburgers. Chocolate chips. USB cords. Basketballs. Good internet. All of these (and more) are difficult or impossible to find in third-world countries. Because these are, for the most part, American items/inventions, they are not made locally and must be shipped in at a high price.
Some American “missionaries” in are more than happy to pay massive sums for their expensive commodities. Others simply promise themselves, “when I return to the USA, the first thing I’m going to do is eat a nice McDonald’s cheeseburger.” Only a tiny portion are content with what they have, and these are usually the Americans working furthest from the city.
The missionaries closest to the slums and villages see, in full high-definition color, the poverty of the world: the couple living on $0.60 a week, the homeless child living in a slum, the old man with nothing but a stick and a wheelbarrow.
Believe me, sights like that will wake you up very quickly. Yet, in all of my travels across Uganda, one theme remained true: those in poverty were, for the most part, happy. Upon greeting the street kid, you could almost count on receiving a broad smile, a greeting, and possibly a hug.
Why? Why are they so happy?
Because that is their entire world. They haven’t been introduced to the money/success-focused countries of the West. Because they don’t know what they’re missing, they can be perfectly content with the tiny amount that they have.
What a wonderful mindset! Contrary to what American culture tells us, happiness can exist even in the most poverty-stricken countries and, despite what some Christians will tell you, God is in complete control of everything, including your possessions. He isn’t your finance manager, of course, but everything you own is a gift from Him. He was the mind behind the invention of all objects, He created the materials that were used in making the object, and through His all-powerful plan, you received such an object. So, despite what some tell you, understand that, rich or poor, everything you have is a gift from God. To deny such a statement is to deny His complete plan and ultimate power.
Some of my closest friends in Uganda are familiar with the American culture. They understand the American focus, and they mistakenly believe that America is a country full of money, without a single poor or homeless person within. This mindset, while flawed, is the source of much amusement between traveling Americans. The visiting Westerners often tell the Ugandan adults or children, “But you’re so happy here! Why would you want to go to America?”
The classic response, “So I can become rich” often follows. This leads to confusion on both sides. The American, well understanding the fact that money doesn’t provide happiness, is confused as to why a perfectly happy Ugandan would leave his happiness behind and move to another country in an attempt to become rich. The Ugandan, having never seen the effects money has upon lottery winners, wonders why the American can be so sad when he has enough money to buy two or three cars. To the Ugandan that has seen the upper-class life, the siren song of what they never had equals greater happiness. To the American who grew up in upper-class life, the simple, quiet lifestyle seems to be the answer to their depression. Both desire the other’s life, yet neither one can successfully attain the other’s without losing a portion of himself in the process.
Fast-forward three weeks, and the Americans have returned to their country. The Ugandans remain behind, desperately wishing to “go to America and become rich”, applying for a vista again and again…. only to be denied. Their happiness is stripped by the false hope in something more. Those lucky enough to understand that such a cultural change will (and has) destroy them continue to live life normally and happily.
The Americans, on the other hand, return to life differently but, without the proper preparation and counseling, often fall down one of two paths.
1: Becoming hyper-aware of what God has given them, they go almost mad, selling every single possession they own, giving them to the local GoodWill, and moving in with the homeless. This has happened more than once and is the opposite of thankfulness. There is a difference between being generous/willingly giving what you own, and giving everything so as to make yourself as poor as those you know in an attempt to satisfy your guilt. Be grateful! Thank God for your blessings, willingly give, and enjoy the fruits of His creation!
2: Becoming hyper-aware of the cultural shift, they remain grateful, but refuse to enjoy what God has given them, mistakenly believing that “enjoying what I have is not being thankful for it”. On the contrary! Enjoy your $10 cup of coffee, savor the flavor, and thank God for the invention of the world’s greatest drink!
Following a major shift in cultures, one of the most difficult habits to drop is that of changing money values in your head. Right now, the United States dollar is worth 3,685 Ugandan shillings, about enough to buy you a two-liter soda. Upon buying a coffee, for example, some former missionaries factor the monetary change in their head.
“Ok, so, I bought the coffee for $9, which translates to…..34,000 shillings, or enough to buy four people lunch in Uganda.” They toss the coffee, believing that they’re wasting money that should otherwise be used to feed the homeless.
Where in the Bible does God tell you to deprive yourself in an attempt to alleviate misshapen guilt? Again, there is a difference between being thankful for what you have and refusing to be grateful for anything God has given you. Do you believe your plan is better than God’s? You don’t need to become a monk- refusing all pleasure- to help the poor and needy! Be grateful for what you have, be generous and giving, but don’t deprive yourself of the pleasures God has given you.
Finally, for those of you that have not had the opportunity to travel to third-world countries like Uganda, understand that such a privilege is not necessary to be grateful. Appreciate the little things around you: your tea, your hot showers, anything that comes to mind. One of the most unique people I’ve ever met was a man who would verbally say, “God, thank you for *insert random object*” at the most obscure times. This skill is admirable and one that I, too, deeply hope to grow in.
God rewards those who are grateful. As something I have personally experienced, this is a large part of being grateful. Having seen real poverty, I now understand the balance between gratefulness and frugality. Attaining a balance between the two is a key part of being a Godly Christian.
God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” -1 Chronicles 16:34Tweet
Thanks a ton for reading, and I hope you have a fantastic day.
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