My internal situational analyst is part fascinated, part disturbed by Jesus’ challenge to give everything up and just follow Him. “If I go and do likewise,” it asks in a small voice, verging on terror, “If I give everything up, how will I live?”
One of my organization’s guiding principles while I was serving in Uganda was to have its workers strive to live comfortably, but at a similar level as their neighbors. We began our service term expecting great sacrifice, and looked forward, to some degree, towards how that sacrifice might bring us closer to God.
At team meetings, we would hear each other’s struggles as we sought to live out this principle – whether to purchase a large refrigerator to preserve more food and save on cooking time, or stick with a smaller one that would better match those in neighboring homes. Or, whether decorating our home in a way that comforted and inspired our spirits would be wasteful among families with no expendable income. Around and around we’d share, wondering whether we were benefiting too greatly, whether we were sacrificing enough.
Interestingly, our neighbors were often confused by our self-imposed emotional turmoil. We had already given up so much, they would point out. We didn’t behave like other NGO workers, with their flashy cars and gated homes. We sat in our compounds on the same tiny wooden stools we offered our guests, our children chattering and playing with theirs. We didn’t need to hobble ourselves with a finicky charcoal stove. “Just get the gas cooker,” they would say, smiling and slapping their stomachs. “Don’t worry. We will benefit also.” While we made plans for the feast we could prepare if we had a steady heat source, all mention of the personal I was stripped from conversation, and the communal we slipped into its place.
This was an answer to my worry-question. By seeking to live as a neighbor in this context, I had signed on not to give up everything I had in pursuit of some kind of personal religious experience; I had agreed to share access to our gas cooker and other resources as part of a what’s-mine-is-ours Kingdom lifestyle. How much more comforting to answer Jesus’ call, knowing I wouldn’t be alone in the following. The journey would be up to us, not just me.
Originally published in Purpose Magazine, November 2015
Esther Harder spent six years in Uganda and Rwanda as an English / Math / Computers teacher, football coach, and peace facilitator. Currently, she works in a library where she is known as the computer literacy instructor, homework mentor, crocheted-flower coach, and the you-dream-it-I-make-it resident artist. Esther blogs at roamingpen.blogspot.com.