A memory from a 1994 trip to Dharamsala, India stands out for me: One morning at a local restaurant I sat on a bench by a robed Tibetan monk. As I sat taking in the morning rays, he reluctantly showed me his simple bowl and chop sticks, which were all he owned to eat with. Then in broken English he tried to ask me about knives, forks, spoons, plates, cups, etc. He was perplexed by all the unnecessary complication.
A friend of mine, Dorothy, came to Los Angeles from Uganda on a UCLA economics scholarship. She relayed her first experience in a U.S. grocery store. Upon seeing the long aisles, each containing thousands of choices, Dorothy froze. She was overwhelmed and unable to continue shopping. In Ugandan grocery stores there are two kinds of flour, one kind of salt, five kinds of nails, and two kinds of sugar, all in burlap sacks lining the walls. In the U.S. the average grocery store displays at least twenty-five kinds of toothpaste alone.
Matovu is a good friend of mine who lives in Uganda, East Africa. He has a two-room mud-brick house with a thatched roof and dirt floor. Everything he owns fits into one trunk, which he stores beneath his bed. Incidentally, he is hands-down the most joyful soul I’ve ever known.
To have numerous dishes and utensils, many of which are never used, to make dozens of choices in every store aisle, and to own so much stuff it fills two storage units is the American way. My parents have a two car garage full of boxes, half of which haven’t seen the light for eighteen years. One day I asked my parents what would happen to all the stuff. My dad replied dryly, “You’ll figure it out when the time comes.”
Americans make numerous bewildering choices every day, from our toothpaste, to our wireless service, to our shoes. The poor don’t have this luxury. They simply want to survive. While many people in North America are worrying about which fork to use when they dine at the French restaurant, many families in Uganda are worrying about where they’ll get their one daily meal.
The reason I’m going into this: if we take Jesus’ humanity seriously we’ll take the welfare of our fellow humans seriously. If God became human out of love for us, the least we can do is wake up from our Western world’s collective amnesia about the poor.