Tag Archives: poor

Being poor is tough

Today we took a trip to the Mtshabezi mission station that was hard on our energy but even more exhausting for our emotions, I think. Today was one of those days that I think should be mandatory for North American Christians. The people we met outside Bulawayo trying to run a school and a hospital with next to nothing reveal just how absurd we are when we are mad our wi-fi is running slow. A lot of us don’t get it. Being poor is tough.

The Ekuphileni Bible School wants to train leaders for BIC churches in the rural areas of Matabeleland. It could house 60 students, but only 22 are enrolled, mainly because it costs $900 a year to attend and few rural people or churches have anywhere near that kind of money. Above is part of the school where they are tilling for the next season’s crop. We offered tips from yesterday’s lessons on conservation farming!

At the Mtshabezi Hospital the morale seemed to match the deteriorating buildings. Above we are lined up getting a tour from one of the spotlessly uniformed nurses (Even the male nurses are called”sisters,” if you know why comment. I don’t know yet). This is a 120-bed hospital, but few stay overnight, since they can’t afford to. The main business, which I think justifies the mission, is the 22 babies a month that are born there and the 1800 people who are in HIV AIDS treatment. MCC was about to ship a bunch of kits for people to use.

There are layers of issues with these missionary-founded now locally-run enterprises. I would not pretend to be very knowledgeable. But I was sad today. I suspect most of you reading this only theoretically know what you have in comparison to places like the rural areas of Zimbabwe. Just imagine this one fact. Since Robert Mugabe became the strongman, reportedly HALF the population has left Zimbabwe. Once productive farmland is fallow. A doctor is hard to hold at the hospital we visited because work in neighboring countries is so much better.  Healthcare is hard to find even if you could afford it, education is similar. Being poor is tough.

I thank God for the good people who give their hearts to meaningful work in trying situations! I am glad the MCC and the BICC in Zimbabwe collaborate so well. I look forward to doing that better myself.

The other Africa posts:

April 13
Circle of Hope travels to southern Africa.


April 18
First thoughts from Zimbabwe

April 19
Being poor is tough

April 20
Going around doing good

April 22
Coming up against the powers


April 25
The food chain

April 25
The work of the Lord

April 26
Showing God’s love in practical ways

April 27
Will the northern hemisphere ever grow peace clubs?

April 30
Will we concede Southern Africa to Islam?


Memorial Day: Yes, John Fogerty and James, the rich are still exploiting us.

Memorial Day weekend just came to a close. I spent most of it with my delightful family, in a delightful place with delightful weather. The other part was spent with the delightful people at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington. Nice.

Even though I was having the perfectly-divertive, potentially-numbing weekend (like everyone else was trying to have), the reason behind the holiday kept running through the back of my mind. I was reminded on Sunday that Memorial Day is for putting flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers. What’s more, as Jerome said in our meeting, it is for mourning the meaninglessness of war and the tragic loss of lives in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then, on the way home tonight, I was listening to Sound Opinion on NPR. They included a section called Memorial Day: Songs from the Front Lines. It gave my mind a chance to get free of my commitment not to think so much for a while as the music critics collected their most-respected war songs in honor of the holiday. They re-minded me and took me back to some places I need to stay.

The rich send the poor to fight for them

Wars always elicit songs. In my lifetime, American wars have increasingly spawned protest songs. One of the songs from the show took me back to the Vietnam War (when I was fifteen). Creedence Clearwater Revival sang a protest song that Jon Fogerty has been singing ever since called: Fortunate Son. It is about how the rich send the poor to fight battles to maintain their wealth. That’s a truth that has only become more true since the sixties. What’s worse, is that today’s young, unlike Fogerty, have much less hope that a song will change anything. They seem to be sure that the “powers that be” will just reduce their passion to a ring tone or a jingle and sell it back to them. They act like their only hope is to sell their soul for a lot of money, not just a little, since they’ll be selling it one way or another.


Fogerty was not the son of a Senator or millionaire. So as a young man he felt very afraid that he would be drafted into the secretive, fruitless, and divisive war in Southeast Asia. Because he was not rich, there was no way out. Because he was not connected to the oligarchy that ran the country, he had no power but his song. So he sang it hard:

Some folks are born made to wave the flag
Ooh, they’re red, white and blue
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief”
Oh, they point the cannon at you, Lord

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no Senator’s son, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one.

Some folks are born silver spoon in hand
Lord, don’t they help themselves, y’all
But when the tax men come to the door
The house looks like a rummage sale, Lord

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no millionaire’s son, no, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one, no

Yeah, some folks inherit star spangled eyes
Ooh, they send you down to war.
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
Oh, they only answer, more, more, more.

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no military son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one

When Bruce Springsteen covers it, we fellow-locals need to sing along. There are still prophets out there! We grow them ourselves — Raleigh Booze will give it a go for you, too — just ask him (or ask  him to sing)! We can at least sing, “It ain’t me” hard — even if we are only going to sing.

share of total income

We Christians  should be singing along with Fogerty and Springsteen, but that’s hardly the best we can do. We don’t have to thumb through the Bible very far to be reminded that they are singing our song. We could, for instance, “sing” along with James and plan some fearless resistance with him. For one thing, he’ll remind us that we are all poor in the eyes of the Lord, whether we write hit songs and fill arenas or not. And he’ll remind us to forgive our exploiters for the sin of their corruption even as God has forgiven all our sins — but not by overlooking them. Our faith unleashes radical forgiveness but also releases  prophetic love-anger over what needs forgiving that the world so desperately needs:

“ Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?” James 2:5-7.

Yes, James, they are exploiting us and we elect more millionaires to do it.  They dishonor the poor and we wring our hands. They blaspheme Jesus and we are afraid to tell them the truth. Forgive us. Sing us the old song again. Help us to sing along and at least make the right kind of noises.


pitonsOne of the best things about taking a trip to a foreign place is experiencing being foreign. When I am away from what usually props up my normality and I don’t have easy access to my usual avoidance mechanisms, it is just me, God and whoever we meet. It makes for a great time to see what is really going on with us.

This time we were in St. Lucia, where it is between 78 and 86 degrees all year round (which sure beats the 6 degrees Philly was experiencing while I was gone!). It is a weird place for other reasons as well, mostly social ones. For instance, while we were touring one of the original plantation houses from the 1700s, it dawned on me that we who were on the tour were a lot like the plantation owners, still — buying up services, experiences and time with our European-descended money, while the tour operators were a lot like the former plantation slaves, still — serving up whatever might suit our fancy while receiving very little for it, stooping to ask us for monetary “appreciation” on our way out. Hmmm.

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