Tag Archives: debt

I’m Hoping To Work My Way To Slave.

Simple homes on the banks of the Nile.










Over the past seven years I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve covered about a dozen countries, several of them multiple times. I’ve been to Ethiopia three times, South Sudan four times, and Kenya about ten or so. I’ve stayed in cities, towns, villages, and some places so remote that when you try to enter it into Google earth, you get nothing. The great thing about being a missionary is that whenever possible, I’m either staying with the locals, or at least somewhere very nearby. I’ve seen all kinds of living conditions, from a family of six living in a 3 meter by 3 meter room, to relatively affluent people living in modern houses with soft furniture and satellite television. Having seen all that, what I’ve learned is that poverty and wealth have very little to do with income.

I learned this week that the average individual, non-mortgage debt in the United States right now is $37,000. That’s the average of every person, not every family. One in ten have non-mortgage debt over $100,000. That is a staggering figure. Now I realize that for some people this is medical debt, and there’s not much that can be done about that. But for a lot of people, it’s just lifestyle debt; the desire to attain some fictitious standard that we’ve either been told we need to achieve, or that we’ve decided we owe to ourselves. It’s the latter that’s the most insidious thing. As we tell ourselves and our children that we can be and have anything we want, we seek to self-glorify ourselves through things. It is the end product of the hyper-individualistic American mindset. In the land where the winner is the one who accumulates, and the king is the one who accumulates more than anyone else, is it any wonder that we see success as having the most stuff?

Here’s the cruel irony. The inevitable end-product to individualistic self-glorification is that we eventually become a slave to someone else. Don’t believe me? Which of the following two people is richer? An Ethiopian who makes enough money to put a simple roof over his head, feed his wife and children, and is content with his life, or an American making $75,000 a year with a mortgage that is going to take 30 years to pay off, student loans that don’t disappear even if he goes bankrupt, two car loans, and a year’s income worth of credit card debt?  Who sleeps better? What good is having stuff if at any moment the bank can call in all my loans? Who has better security, if such a thing exists?

I write this today not as a condemning measure, but because for many of us, our paradigm is that this is the way it has to be. I’m here to tell you that it’s not, and in fact most of the world does not do it this way. Wealth is not just having a lot of things, it is also not having the things you don’t need. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 says, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

For those of us who have chosen to make missions our lifestyle, this is doubly important. Hebrews 12:1 says, “let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” I can’t think of a bigger encumbrance than $37,000 of consumer debt. How can we be a servant of God, when we are already a slave to the bank? How can we give our time when our time is already spoken for to pay for our debts? Simple living is a virtue. I want to challenge us to learn from the African who lives simply, but enjoys his family and every blessing that God gives him. It’s not too late.


House Hunters International

Lately I’ve been enjoying watching House Hunters International on Netflix. I enjoy watching people going to countries where I’ve never been so I can see what houses are like and what the standard of living is, as well as what you get for your money. On the flip side, I’m a bit embarrassed almost every time I watch it, and specifically when it’s an American moving overseas. Most of these people are moving to Europe, which for the most part has an extremely high standard of living. I’m embarrassed at how inflexible and entitled the people are who are searching for a home. Do you really need three bathrooms for a family of four? How much time do you spend in there anyway? I really hope the people on the show are not representative of Americans in general, but I suspect that to some extent they are.

Typical homes in South Sudan
Typical homes in South Sudan









A couple months ago, a friend of mine put up a picture of some homes in South Sudan similar to the ones above. The caption said something along the lines of, “75% of people in South Sudan live in huts such as the one above.”  It was simply an informational statement, but the first respondent said, “That’s so sad.”  Why on earth is that sad? Is it because it doesn’t have a heated toilet seat and a copy of Cosmo on the tank? Now there’s something to be said for running water, but think of all the advantages.  First of all, just look at the scene above. It doesn’t come much more beautiful than that. The homes keep the heat of the day out with their thick thatching. There’s no mortgage over your head, and no bank to be a slave to. When the roof leaks, repairs are easy. What do we need in life? A roof over our heads, clean water, enough food, good health, safety for us and our children, a means to make a living. These are the essentials. Everything else can either be considered a blessing or excess. Many of these things are severely lacking in South Sudan, but the fact that they are living in mud and grass huts is not something to look down on or pity someone for. What they have and what we lack is simplicity.

Hebrews 13:5 says,

“5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”

Philippians 4:12 says, 12 I have known both to be abased, and I have known to abound; in everything and in all things I have been initiated, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want.

Unfortunately it seems that we only know how to abound and to be full. What we don’t see is the slavery we inevitably must live under in that condition. I say this because most of us don’t actually abound. We live in debt to the bank or the mortgage company that holds the note on our “abounding”.  Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”  How much better would it be if we lived simply, without the slavery that comes with maintaining an impossibly high standard of living? How much more time could we spend with our children? How much weight would be off our shoulders if we didn’t have a thirty year mortgage and a second mortgage, and two car payments? How much more could we give? How much more could we do? It is a documented fact that over half of Americans right now would be unable to pay the bills if they missed one paycheck. Is that what it means to be rich? I think not. Simplicity allows us to focus on the things that are important. Simplicity allows us to take the focus off of ourselves. Simplicity is what allows us to survive in both abasement and in abounding. It makes us more flexible, and it allows us to connect with people better. It allows us to be free of our voracious appetite for more and more stuff. We should not pity people for living in huts, but they should pity many of us. I think it’s time to change our standards and to reassess what is important. Stuff, when it comes in excess is not a blessing, but a curse.

A man fixing his roof in South Sudan. How many of us would find it this easy?
A man fixing his roof in South Sudan. How many of us would find it this easy?