Friday, 23 June 2017

Money, possessions and ‘stuff’

Living in Zambia, the supermarket that I most often shopped at was called Shoprite. For some reason, it always has old cheesy songs playing in the background. I heard Chris De Burgh's 'Lady in Red' more times than I care to remember, and Cliff Richard’s ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ often blasted out throughout November and December. During one particular visit towards the end of my time in Zambia, Dido was playing and for some reason the lyrics from that particular song stuck with me.

Ndola supermarket

'Nothing I have is truly mine…' echoed in my head as I drove home.

I thought about this for a moment. I was driving a vehicle that wasn’t mine; it had been donated to Arise. The apartment I lived in wasn’t mine; it was built for the Bible College by volunteers. Obviously I had clothes, food and other things (both useful and useless) stored there but I planned to donate a lot of it when I left Zambia to move back home. After all, it’s just ‘stuff’.

The apartment block where I lived

Living in Zambia as a volunteer has certainly challenged my perspective towards money and possessions. I’m sure this sounds very typical of someone adjusting to life in the UK after spending a length of time in Africa! But it stands out to me because it’s difficult to convey the enormity of the poverty there, compared to our wealth here at home. In the UK, the culture tends to be about working towards owning more and more, and getting bigger and better things. It’s easy to prioritise convenience over cost and treat lots of things like they’re disposable, just because we can buy another one if we need to. I wonder if it’s this kind of thinking that can lead us to feel like we never have enough and even wonder if we will ever be content.

Children in Kaniki

I used to cringe when I would hear children being told, "There are starving children in Africa who would eat that!" in order to make them finish their dinner. It always seemed a silly thing to say because it doesn’t mean that meal would be transported all the way across the globe for someone else to eat it! However I do think that there really is a link between the choices we make and how other people live. It is very easy to waste food and be excessive about what we buy. (Tearfund's 'Renew our Food' campaign is worth reading about in connection with this.) Just by being a bit more conscious about how we spend our money, we can have more left to give away to help others. Thousands of charities like Arise and Kapumpe can use a small amount of money to support people who are much more vulnerable than us, but who we’re unable to directly help ourselves. 

Meal for children in Arise

I used to think that a few small decisions made by one person could not make much of a difference, particularly when we consider the scale of the problem. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation there are 795 million people in the world who are suffering from chronic malnourishment. The work that Arise and Kapumpe are doing in Kaniki and the surrounding areas is just a very tiny drop in a massive ocean. For each individual who is helped, there are many more who are not.

But I’ve seen that it still makes a difference to some. You might be aware of the starfish story; this is something that I was reminded of again and again whilst I worked in Zambia. It helped me to focus on what we can do and the people who we can make a small difference to. 

Being financially supported by my kind family, friends and church for more two years whilst I lived in Zambia might have made it easier for me to view money, possessions and stuff differently, as if it were not truly mine. But I don’t think that way of thinking is simply something to apply there. The Bible says that we are enriched in every way so that we can be generous on every occasion (2 Corinthians 9:11). So my challenge is now to work out what that looks like now that I’m back home and living in the UK. 

Sadly as I ponder that, there’ll be no more Cliff and other cheesy songs to sing along to in Sainsbury’s!

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