Posted by: trevormeers | July 21, 2010

Why me?

(The latest in a series of reports from a recent missions trip to Peru. 12 days, 21 Gringos, 7,800 Bibles distributed. Plenty of stories.)

I didn’t need a trip to a world-class slum to clue me in about how good I have it. I spend enough time in the backcountry to appreciate the simple daily pleasures of a hot shower and tap water that won’t tie my stomach in knots. But you don’t have to be a spoiled American teenager with a starlet-grade sense of entitlement to have your mindset adjusted by a couple of hours in the Manchay slum of Lima, Peru.

Manchay’s landscape is almost lunar; nothing but rock grows on the hills. People with nowhere else to go have constructed a small city of plywood shacks plunked down on any open spot they can find on this government land. As far as I can tell, there’s no more than spotty electricity, running water and sewage. In fact, the political slogan painted prominently on the few walls is “Agua para todos”—“water for everyone.” Around Manchay, even politicians aren’t bold enough to promise a chicken in every pot when there isn’t even water, or perhaps a pot. Passing through this place, you can’t help but imagine that the world has loaded all its hopelessness into a truck, backed up to Manchay and dumped it out before squealing away.

Seeing such a place in person had the predictable effect. I was humming “God Bless America” in short order. But along with simple gratitude, I felt another feeling rising quickly. High expectations.

We’re all pretty quick to ask, “Why me?” when things are going horribly, in our estimation. But as we passed through Manchay and other desperate parts of Peru, our trip leader Pastor Phil repeatedly demanded that we ask ourselves the same question in light of how good we have it back home.

When we look at the truly materially blessed in our world—the athletes, the movie stars, the trust-fund babies—it’s typical to say they won the lottery. But when you look at the odds of how your own life could’ve gone, maybe you got a better draw than you think.

Almost half the world—3 billion people—lives on less than $2.50 per day, a princely $912.50 annually. Eighty percent of all people live on less than $3,650 annually. The average income worldwide is under $8,000 per person. According to Globalissues.org (source of the stats above), the wealth of the world’s seven richest people combined exceeds the Gross Domestic Product of 41 countries (567 million people).

So that’s a lot of poor people. But there’s no denying that there are still plenty of people with more cash than you and me. 10 million millionaires in the world today, for example.

As we try to figure our place in the world, let’s think of it this way: Imagine you’re a baby parachuting onto the planet with an equal chance of splashing down in various economic situations. If you were born into a middle-class American family, you managed to miss both the gross poverty landing zone and the millionaire landing zone. So what’s more impressive: That you avoided the pool of 10 million people or the pool of 3 billion? From a beating-the-odds perspective, it’s a whole lot more notable that you’re not poor than it is that you’re not rich. You had a roughly 50/50 chance of being horribly poor, but only about a 1 in 700 chance of being ridiculously wealthy.

Cecil Rhodes recognized this in another era when, during the heyday of the British Empire, he said, “To be born English is to win the grand prize in the lottery of life.” Indeed, if you’re a middle-class American, you should feel like you were born holding the candy bar with the golden ticket.

Yet what missed target do we spend more time bemoaning: the tiny rich target or the broad-side-of-a-barn poor target?

Local newcasts’ mentality of “if it bleeds it leads” makes most Americans grossly overestimate how many murders occur each year. In the same way, our sports-driven and celebrity-obsessed culture makes us grossly overestimate how many rich people there really are. In no time, we’re convinced we’re suffering in some tiny minority that hasn’t gotten its share of the pie. (It doesn’t help my personal perspective that one of the 10 million millionaires lockers next to me at the corporate fitness center.)

But if we somehow remind ourselves that we’re really swimming in good fortune, what do we do with it? Some wealthy circles once held to the concept of “noblesse oblige,” in which the better off owed some level of service to those less fortunate. As Christians, our debt of service is much deeper because none of us, of course, randomly parachuted into this life. We have been placed in our stations for a specific reason.

In Matthew 25, Christ shares the Parable of the Talents, where three servants handle their master’s money in different ways. Two invest their resources and deliver a return to their master. The third buries his talent to ensure he didn’t lose any of it. Upon seeing this wasted resource, the master says, “You wicked and lazy servant.” And ultimately orders, “Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness.”

As we stood in the oppressive haze of Manchay, we all felt suddently wealthy. And as this story came back to some of us, we began to think of how little service we actually provide to the people around us back in America. We took stock of all the tools at our disposal and realized we’d better start asking, “Why me?”

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Responses

  1. I’ve enjoyed this series on your trip to Peru. It is helpful as a reminder of the many ways that we have been blessed.

    I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 8, where Paul notes that God has blessed some, not so that we can simply spend it on ourselves, but so that we can be a help in someone else’s time of need.

    If we use what He’s given us for others, we are blessed indeed.


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