Disparities…where to begin

Over the years, I have been blessed to travel to various corners of the world. Without fail, these experiences shake and form me deeply, continually reshaping my world view as a follower of Christ.

Yet, I must acknowledge as a disciple of Jesus when I observe the disproportionate distribution of resources across the globe, I am presented with one of the greatest tensions in faith. I find myself attempting to reconcile the disparity of necessary daily human resources such as water, food, clothing and shelter. Why do I have access to much while others have so little?

Often times the root behind many such disparities result from corruption, war, ethnic or racial conflict, or political unrest. Frequently such disparities are merely dismissed as collateral damage; justified as striving for a ‘greater good’ so long as it finds alignment with a particular politic or political agenda. What I find most disheartening is when professing Christians assume such a dismissive and calloused posture which looks nothing like the Jesus we find in the Gospels.

Indeed, it was Jesus who said, “you will always have the poor among you,” (John 12:8). As the Gospels clearly reveal, this was the case in the time of Christ. As life experience and news feeds testify, the words of Christ prove prophetic and prove true in the twenty-first century.

So then, does the prophetic voice of Christ give permission to ignore disparities or merely justify that indeed such disparities will always be? If not, what then does one do with the tensions which accompany such questions alongside a faith perspective? Herein lies the tension which should cause all followers of Jesus angst.

Recently while in East Africa, I was hosted by two young American families. Both households had several young children. As a parent, I marveled at their tenacity and risk they were willing to assume as they were obedient to a greater call. Both couples were highly educated in the medical and academic field, several with doctoral degrees. In the States, they could have secured a very lucrative salary and been assured a life of comfort. Observing their skillsets, their gifts were being utilized and fully vested into the community which they served, which provided zero assurance for their safety, well-being, and provided very minimal income. They served selflessly with great personal sacrifice and with significant risk among a culture very different than they knew back home.

As I observed the medical facilities which the two women served, I was cut to the heart. The hospital was filthy. Smoke from the hospital incinerator hovered over the entire grounds with a sickening smell. Chickens and cats had free range throughout the hospital rooms and the compound. The waiting rooms, all concrete, held no furniture, were filled with patients sitting and lying on the dirty floor awaiting their turn to receive care. Within the treatment rooms, medicine cabinets were virtually empty. Basic meds were obviously scarce. Needles and bloodied bandages lay scattered on the floor. Women in the maternity ward frequently shared a bed with two other laboring women. Yet despite this…an undeniable passion and joy emerged from deep within the missionaries as we walked throughout the medical facility.

The academic classrooms assumed many of the same characteristics. Dirt, worn out desks, a small and limited library, and very dated technology was the norm. The electric supply continually flickered on and off as if mocking all attempts to educate students in this environment. Yet despite this…an undeniable passion and joy emerged from deep within the missionaries as we walked throughout the school facility.

Upon observing the limited resource in the medical and academic settings which they served, I finally blurted out, “Given your education, and full knowledge of possible resources, how do you reconcile the disparity between what you know is available and what you have to work with?”

Their answer came very pointedly and without pause. “We do what we can—with what we have—through who we are.”

For authentic followers of Christ, there are no simple answers to the reality of disparity and the disproportions of resources locally and across the globe.  However, I am reminded of the sobering words Jesus spoken to his disciples:

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.  Luke 12:48b NRSV

Indeed, might a beginning place be…we do what we can—with what we have—through who we are.