Why Is It Always About Money?

by Rachel Pieh Jones on October 21, 2016

Nik Ripken wrote an excellent article a few weeks ago about how foreigners need to be better at being needy, how we need to grow in dependence on the people around us. The specific example he used of a man doing this well was about money.

I appreciated the article but one thought lingered: Why is it always about money? I feel like our conversations about how to engage well abroad are often myopically based on money. We talk a lot about it. I’ve written a lot about it. Poverty. Beggars. Giving. Wealth. Vast differences. How to live wisely and give wisely…But living abroad well and growing in dependence on local friends has to be based on more than economics.


I came home last week from a terrible day at work. A local friend lives with us on weekends and she was at the house. She watched me cry, listened while I debriefed, and then gave me a big hug. She said, “I don’t know what else to do but I feel like I should hug you.”

In that moment, I was needy. I was revealing my brokenness, my exhaustion, my frustration and disappointment. I didn’t need money. I was the one providing her with a place to stay on weekends. I didn’t need help with school fees or to beg for food to put on the table for my family. But I needed her to listen and to share my emotion.

Being needy can’t only mean needing money or being financially interdependent and I have to wonder if the man Ripken references in his article was married, a father, or a single man. Because honestly? If I had to scrape together school fees from coins proffered by neighbors and implore local people to help me feed my kids, I might not choose to live here. Call me faithless, but you can also call me honest. And feel free to pray for me to have more faith!

Ripken’s point is excellent: we need to be needy. But there are more ways to rely on each other than financially. What are those ways and how do we foster an attitude of interdependence?


Emotionally. We need to be vulnerable and honest about our joys and our struggles. It is easy for language or cultural barriers to hinder this kind of sharing. And, it is easy to imagine that showing our true selves, especially on a bad day, reveals weakness. Guess what? That’s true. It does show our weakness. Guess what else? We’re all weak and in our weaknesses, God is revealed as strong. So we need to get over our pride and be willing to be broken in front of and with our local friends. As if we were in authentic two-way relationships with them. Go figure!

Culturally. Anyone who is outside their home culture is clueless. Clue.Less. This lasts much longer than we would like, for some of us it lasts the entire time we live abroad. We will never learn everything there is to know about our host culture and we need to constantly be ready to reveal our ignorance and ask for help, wisdom, direction. I’ve been here thirteen years and still have to call a friend for advice on what to wear to certain events.

Spiritually. I love when my friends pray for me. Christian or Muslim, when they take the time and the empathy to bring me before the throne of God, it is a gift. I have so much to learn about faith, submission, service, hospitality, conviction, and more from my Muslim friends. I depend on them to challenge me in fasting and giving, in commitment to spiritual disciplines.

Community. We need community. We can find it in the expatriate world and there is nothing wrong with that. But if we really want to learn about and engage in our host culture, we need to build authentic community with local friends. This happens by simply doing things together. Volleyball, picnics, going to cafés, birthday parties, painting, boating…obviously the possibilities are endless. Find someone you love, find someone who loves the same thing, and do it together.

Emergency help. We’ve been robbed, we’ve had car accidents, medical emergencies, extreme loneliness, marital stress, death threats, harassment…Local friends have stepped in on our behalf more times than I can count. We don’t know how to handle the thief or who to ask about getting the internet turned back on, or which doctor is reliable, or how to respond to the threats. I am forever grateful to the people who have shepherded us through incredibly stressful situations, who have stood in the gap, able to act and make wise decisions while we can only cry or scream or sit.

There are so many more ways that we can be dependent on our local communities. They don’t have to involve money. But they do have to involve humility, authenticity, knowing our needs, and asking for help.

How do you build interdependent relationships in your community?

*image via Flickr







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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.
  • Amy Medina

    Yes. Good stuff. Thank you.

  • Hmm, I read the other article and I think perhaps that money was the easiest example to use. The most concrete. Because obviously there are other ways to need people. You’ve shared that. Tomorrow I’m going to watch a friend’s girls so she can unpack in more than 2 minute increments. Time, love, support in other non-tangible ways aren’t so easy to make concrete.
    Anyway, I think you’re both right and it reminded me of a missionary friend to Tanzania who is in the US for open heart surgery this week. All the national missionary teachers have a “health care fund” and they gave a large portion of it to him, even though he didn’t “need” it and they definitely could have used it for themselves. But one of their rules was that whoever needed couldn’t ask and couldn’t deny the aid given. It was something they wanted to do for the missionary who has lived among them most of his life. 🙂
    (It’s Village Schools International if you want to look it up at all)

  • Thomas

    I liked Nik’s article and I like yours too! I feel like money is a huge deal in a lot of cultures, not just Western ones. Yet if we are needy in other ways like you mention above, the right people will notice. I think we have to pull back against our natural tendency to look to other expats, especially ones close to us (like our team), to fulfill these needs. We need to need them too but if we can’t successfully plug into, and not just orbit, others’ worlds, we won’t have the genuine relationships that can lead to a most fruitful relationship.

  • Steve Colby

    Thanks for this article Rachel. This reminds me of the excellent work by Tom and Betty Sue Brewster, “Bonding and the Missionary Task: establishing a sense of belonging.” Coming in weakness is not easy, but embodies how Jesus came, how the disciples were received in people’s homes, how Peter met Cornelius, and on… Maybe ‘going and making disciples’ was always meant to be a mutual endeavour?

  • Mary Britton

    How do I build interdependent relationships? I stay vulnerable to my two closest Ugandan friends by meeting almost every week with at least one of them individually. We each share struggles, the pits we’ve been in, the musings, victories (and thereby temptations to pride) and we pray, really pray for each other. Oh, and we laugh. Lots of laughter at our mistakes and observations on life.

  • Serenity Mary

    I’ve been walking down some lonely, difficult roads the past few months and it has been my national friends that have come around me, loved me, prayed for me, brought me food and drinks. They have been the ones who have seen and gone through same things and know the path well and haven’t walked out. I am so thankful to GOD for them.

  • Great article. If you want to develop the ideas further, I suggest “Voices of the Poor”, a study done by the World Bank asking poor people how they experience poverty. Their responses show clearly that even poverty is not primarily about money for them. It’s about lack of respect, disconnectedness and stuff like that.

  • Ivanna

    I can speak with assurance about myself. I know I am very needy emotionally. Not in an unhealthy way, but in a human way. I can give a resounding YES that I need my community and local friends in a way that I can’t achieve on my own.

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