I have been asking myself the question how we can best love the poor since moving here to Cameroon. It was much easier to consider this while living in the States where there were no people living in houses made of mud and sticks right next door to me. There, “the poor” were more of a category as opposed to actual people that had faces and names. So let me begin by introducing one such man so that you too might begin to see their faces:
Simon is an old widower that wears a white silky “Lancôme Paris” shirt when he goes “to town” completed by a black beret. He has few teeth left and what looks like some sort of growth or tumor on the side of his neck. I attempt to talk to him every morning when I go out for a jog, but he hardly speaks any French, just Bakoum and even his Bakoum is hard to understand (due to the lack of teeth). Since we moved in, he has been digging a latrine in his backyard and he is getting close to being done. I went over to see it the other day and he was giddy. He had hauled wood from his field all the way to his house and used actual nails and screws to put it together. I complimented his work and he was beaming. He went on to explain that it was necessary to build a wood framed latrine instead of the typical branches because (of course) the branches could not withstand the wind.
It was nice to see Simon so happy because he is generally just sitting expressionless in front of his house. He washes his clothes in a bucket of water and hangs them to dry by his small house. His meals usually consist of a few bananas or plantains when he can find them. When I ask him how he is doing, I always get the same response: “Dah.” We could translate it as something like “surviving.” I never see people hanging out at his house, he seems to have few friends and literally seems to just be surviving.
A couple weeks ago, Simon opened up his home for a prayer meeting. I had never been in his house and I do not know why I reacted the way that I did. Walking inside and the dark hut I remarked that dirt floor was grey with ash where there had been a fire. The walls were made of wood and sticks with an occasional empty sack stuffed between the holes to keep out the bugs and weather. In his house there were benches all around the four walls and that was it. I may have seen a shovel and a machete. I tried not to lean against the wall knowing that generally that is where the biting ants congregate. I sat there in the dark on the verge of tears as I was so struck by the fact that this man possessed nothing. No running water. No electricity. No family near him. No Bible in his language. Few friends. I noticed afresh how thin and frail he was and I wondered how much longer he would live. I wondered if how many people would notice if he were to die.
Then my brain went into problem solving mode: maybe we can give him our oil lamps so he could have some more light in his house, maybe our kids could bring him water each day, maybe we could…
I was stopped by the realization that I was aiming too low. I wanted more for him than that. Specifically, I want to…
Give Him Streets of Gold
There are so many problems here: illiteracy, disease, very limited access to medical care and clean water, violence and so on. Honestly, I want to try to fix them all. Although we can attempt to solve these problems, we want so much more for these people then just clean water. Jesus said himself that everyone who drinks physical water will be thirsty again but whoever drinks of the water that he gives “will never be thirsty forever” (John 4:13-14). If this is what Jesus supplies, then is this not a long-term solution to Simon’s water problem? In the same way, even as we are ready to help Simon pay for a surgery, what we really want for him is to get a whole new body that will never pain him again. Every day he walks very far away on a dirt path to his field, and although it would be nice to have a smooth paved road, what we really desire for him is to parade through the clean, gold-laden streets of Heaven forever.
So, our first priority is not to meet physical needs or even provide education, but instead our first priority is to introduce people to the One who is capable to working all things (even hunger and disease) out for their good. I am not saying these two are at odds, but instead that one should have priority. What Simon needs is not to seek a higher standard of living but instead he needs to seek first God’s Kingdom. What he needs is not to have more opportunities so he can look after his needs but instead he needs a Heavenly Father who will look after him. What Simon needs is a Savior, and a new Heaven and a New Earth. And Simon is not the only one who is in need…
Learn to Be Content (With and For Him)
Our children are currently being schooled in English and French and have a world of opportunities in front of them. So while they are learning about space exploration, their friends, often dressed in rags, are hauling water from the well or planting peanuts in their garden so they can have food eat. That is what they do all day every day and that is what they will likely continue to do until they die. Dave and I just look at each other and pull our hair out wanting these kids to have the same opportunities that our children do. But then I am faced with this verse:
“If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” 1 Timothy 6:8
Is that it? Food and clothing? What about access to medical care? What about the ability to read? What about knowledge of the solar system or how the body works? What about a knowledge of history? Don’t my neighbors have a right to these same gifts that I have been given? Am I really to call them to be content with just food and clothing? Until I find a verse that says “If we have food, clothing, ipads, knowledge of history, space, etc…with these we will be content” I think both my neighbors and I myself will have to be content with them just having food and clothing.
Then there is this verse:
“The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” – Psalm 34:10
So, in response to this I ask myself: Say there is a Bakoum person who comes to Christ and continues to live at the same standard of living, is he really not lacking any good thing? Is not water a good thing? Or education? Technology? Electricity?
To this the Lord responds: wait. Their time will come when they rule and reign with Christ, when they are able to study the planets that he has created, when they will actually inherit the earth and never be hungry nor thirsty again. For now, there will be trials, but soon the trials for them will be a faint memory.
To conclude, there is a deep desire in me to raise my neighbors’ standard of living and to make it so that we are at the same economic level. But where does this desire come from? Is it an American value? Or a Christian value? Is it compassion? Or guilt? I am not exactly sure, but the biblical call is definitely to prioritize calling people to seek first God’s Kingdom, be content with food and clothing, trust that they do not lack any good thing, and wait for the streets of gold.
So when you pray for Simon, pray big. Pray that he will be able to have every needed surgery, but do not forget to pray that he will get a whole new body. Pray that the Lord will provide his daily water, but remember to pray that he will follow Christ and never be thirsty again. Do not just pray that he will have a nicer house but pray that he will live in a mansion made for him by Jesus. Pray he will not spend his days worrying about what he is going to eat, but pray that he will seek God and ask God to “worry about” providing for him. Let us not just give our neighbors an America here in Africa, let us aim to give them the very Kingdom of God.
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Dave and Stacey Hare met at The Master’s College (now The Master’s University) in Santa Clarita, CA. They then went on to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY where they each received their MDivs. Also in Louisville, they adopted four kids from Ethiopia. Their first term on the field they spent learning French and Kwakum. For their first home assignment they each received a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics, Bible Translation from the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics (now Dallas International University). They currently live in Cameroon, Africa where they serve as Linguists/Bible Translators among the Kwakum (aka Bakoum) people.