Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

When Essentials become Luxuries

My twelve year old daughter took part in a speech competition yesterday. The participants had to choose between three topics. She chose to speak about conservation and eventually decided to focus on global warming. This became a family affair as we all dug in to get information that could be used in her speech, starting with Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and following this up with documentaries recently screened on local TV about the topic. Then the most difficult part came, where the essentials had to be reduced to a speech no longer than 5 minutes in language that she was comfortable with as a twelve year old. She didn’t win but she did well. We are very proud of her.
As part of the preparation for this speech, one of the books consulted recently appeared in Afrikaans, the title which translates to English as The Perfect Storm. One of the chapters was written by Leonard Sweet and then translated into Afrikaans. In this chapter he writes that in affluent countries like the USA, on average every person uses between 1000 and 2000 litres of fresh water daily! In poor countries like Tanzania, each person uses between 2 and 5 litres of fresh water daily! I can’t remember who it was that once said that we will stop making war about oil somewhere in the future and then people will start making war about fresh water.
Southern Africa has just experienced a bad drought, but fortunately it started raining over the weekend. I went into a fairly remote area of Swaziland today, sliding and slipping on the gravel road which leads up to my destination. My car’s a mess, all covered with mud, but I’m thankful for the rain!
As I was driving along, noticing streams running and water holes filled with muddy water, I thought about the words of Leonard Sweet. By the world’s standards we are definitely not rich. But we have so much – so many luxury items that are not essential to survive on: TV, computers, DVD players, electric shaver, cell phones, two sons at university! And then I thought to myself how we would survive if we had only the most basic things and how it would feel if five litres of water was considered a luxury instead of the normal two.
A friend of mine used to be a pastor in a fairly wealthy congregation in Pretoria (South Africa). One day he said to me that he just wished the day would come when he was no longer the poorest person in the congregation and could do the same things which his church members could do for recreation. My immediate response was that I envy him. I wish the day would come when I was no longer the richest person in my congregation, when I didn’t have to feel guilty every time I bought something which could be considered as a luxury item.
I’ve come to terms with the situation in which we are, but there are times when I still ask myself the question if we don’t have way too much.
Robert Heilbroner suggested the following as a way to start getting an understanding of how a billion people are living today:

  • First, take out all the furniture: leave a few old blankets, a kitchen table, maybe a wooden chair. You’ve never had a bed, remember.
  • Second, throw out your clothes. Each person in the family may keep the oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. The head of the family has the only pair of shoes.
  • Third, all kitchen appliances have vanished. Keep a box of matches, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt and a handful of onions, a dish of dried beans. Rescue some mouldy potatoes from the garbage can; those are tonight’s meal.
  • Fourth, dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, take out the wiring and the lights and everything that runs by electricity.
  • Fifth, take away the house and move the family into the tool shed.
  • Sixth, no more postman, fireman, government services. The two-class-room school is three miles away but only two of your seven children attend anyway, and they must walk.
  • Seventh, throw out your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans, and insurance policies. You now have a cash hoard of $5.
  • Eighth, get out and start cultivating three acres. Try hard to raise $300 in cash crops because your landlord wants one-third and your moneylender 10%.
  • Ninth, find some way for your children to bring in a little extra money so you have something to eat most days. But it won’t be enough to keep bodies healthy, so lop off 25 to 30 years of your life.

This isn’t unrealistic. Many people I know in Swaziland, live in exactly these kind of circumstances. But most of us will never be able to understand this.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007 - Posted by | Africa, Comfort Zone, Culture, Mission, Poverty, Swaziland


  1. ~humbling and sobering.

    My husband (Josh) and i were just talking about our luxuries last night. Right now we are still in America, but are preparing to go to Ukraine as full-time missionaries. We have cut out many of our luxuries already – excessive entertainment (such as movies every weekend, eating out several times a week), have sold our house,etc. But, we still have many things that in America are considered little and normal, such as cell phones, 2 computers, 2 cars, closets of clothes. And, we still eat out 2x a week. We have made major cutbacks, but we are realizing it’s not enough.
    Josh has been reading Hudson Taylor’s biography. Before he moved to china, Hudson Taylor purged himself of everything that he would not have access to in China. He had 2 goals: to prepare for the living conditions in China and to grow in his reliance on God for everything He needed.
    Sadly enough, the more luxuries we have, the less faith we sometimes seem to have compared to those who have to rely on God for their daily bread (literally).

    Comment by lmparks | Thursday, October 11, 2007 | Reply

  2. God bless you for obeying His calling on your life to go to the Ukraine. Please keep contact end let me know how things are going once you arrive there.
    Last night I was going through my bookcase next to our bed. These are the books which I still plan to read – a pile of them. One of them is Hudson Taylor’s biography. You’ve convinced me to move this book higher up in the pile.
    As a matter of interest: I’ve been to Russia many times and have been to the Ukraine (Kiev) once. The Russians are definitely poorer than the Ukrainians, yet nearly all of them have cell phones. I’ve seen the same in Swaziland. It seems as if cell phones are no longer considered as a luxury item.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, October 11, 2007 | Reply

  3. Stirring post. Its funny, just twenty minutes ago I was thumbing through the most recent National Geographic while I waited for a student assistant to open the library at SEBTS. I saw a house floating on a river in Indonesia and I thought to myself, “Could I live like that?”

    It is a call that I think sometimes we don’t think about (not here in the states anyways). I could go on, but it would be negative. But, I do hope that I would be willing to give up my luxuries when the time comes. Perhaps it is now.


    Do you have a date night? Sorry, I was just curious sent yous said that you guys were trying to cut back on eating out. I was listening to a “family seminar” the other day and the speaker was discussing having “date night” and “family movie night” (rented I’m assuming from his description). I remember thinking, “How would date night work in Central Asia?” Oh well, just a thought.


    Comment by dwmiii | Thursday, October 11, 2007 | Reply

  4. A friend of mine used to be a missionary in South Africa and did tremendous work. At one point he decided that he wanted to get rid of all their luxuries. We spent hours with them trying to convince them that they had to think and pray this thing through before making such a radical decision. The problem was that they often made very emotional decisions and I sensed that they were not ready for this. Eventually they didn’t do it, but then new tension arose because his wife wasn’t satisfied anymore with his meagre salary. Sadly, eventually they divorced and everything just became a mess in their family.
    I think we need to think about our luxuries and prayerfully make decisions about these things. But then it needs to be a family thing. And perhaps it also needs to be said that a missionary happily married and setting an example may be a stronger witness than people who have given up their luxuries but live in constant strife within the family because of this. God really needs to give us wisdom in this regard.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, October 11, 2007 | Reply

  5. Arnau,

    I agree, I’m not looking to disregard any teachings about the family. A date night is okay. But, I am currently wrestling with that style of life geared towards the family and missions issues. I’ll actually be posting about it next week. That may define my position a little more or at least explain why I am connecting these two things.

    But, I do think that we need to be at least, as you have said, prayerfully thinking about the way we live.

    I enjoy your blog! Keep up the good work.


    Comment by dwmiii | Thursday, October 11, 2007 | Reply

  6. Arnau,

    I guess I need to clarify more of what I said above. What I mean by “that style of life geared towards the family” does not mean, “ministry comes first.” I am very much concerned with the family, I just see some here in the states hiding behind that so they don’t have to do anything in the church. That is all. 🙂


    Comment by dwmiii | Thursday, October 11, 2007 | Reply

  7. OK, your follow-up post does make it more clear. What I have noticed in the church is that some people don’t do much in the church and hide behind all kinds of excuses while others are always busy and involved with a number of things until they come to a point where they have to stop or else burn out. I am totally convinced that not one of these are correct. If all of the church members did something, then the work would be done, but because some people are hiding behind excuses (such as the family) and doing nothing, others get overloaded. But it’s not only in the States that this happens. It happens all over, with the exception perhaps of churches with predominantly first-generation believers where all the members may still be enthusiastic in serving God. But I’ll keep a look out for your post.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, October 11, 2007 | Reply

  8. Hi Dougald,

    to answer your question, yes, we do have a date night every week. That, too, has changed form over the last year. Although it still consists of eating out we now do more active things like playing tennis or taking walks/hikes instead of shopping or movies. Josh and I probably have an atypical situation when it comes to balancing family life with ministry. First, we have no children. Second, ALL ministries that we are involved in we do together. So, even while ministering, it does not feel like we’re sacrificing family time. In fact, I believe it makes our marriage stronger.

    Comment by lmparks | Friday, October 12, 2007 | Reply

  9. Obviously your situation will change if you should become pregnant. I think it is important to realise that God is aware of our unique circumstances and that He wants to use us within our circumstances. It is wonderful if a married couple can both be absolutely involved in one mission. Should your circumstances change, then you will have to find a new way to do this.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, October 12, 2007 | Reply

  10. lmparks,

    Thanks for the response. I think that a good marriage will have a good balance of both the ministry time and the personal time with the spouse. I think it is great that your marriage grows stronger through ministry.

    But, what do I know…I’m still single. 🙂

    I appreciate your comments (both you and Arnau) and willingness to discuss this with me.

    Through Christ,

    Comment by dwmiii | Saturday, October 13, 2007 | Reply

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