Monday, July 30, 2012

Most of what I know about Money, I learned in Indonesia

“Do you think the world is going to end soon?”
We had just started a six-month furlough.  The woman sitting beside me on that last leg of our trip back to the States was American. She asked the question just days after the October 2008 economic crash.
We’d been chatting and I told her why we were coming from Indonesia. She must have thought I had a direct line to God’s plans. I looked in her frightened eyes and told her I had no idea what was going to happen next.
We spent six months in the States, enjoying family, friends and food. And we tried to get used to 24 hour news again—all bleak at that time. We knew friends who’d lost jobs, were afraid of losing homes. It was hard to hear. Selfishly, I’d been looking forward to avoiding poverty for a while. 

My eyes and ears and heart needed a break from hard stuff.
The woman’s question haunted me—but not because I feared that the world was going to end. Did she have any idea that much of the rest of the world had been experiencing economic hardship for a long time? Did she know that some countries had never experienced prosperity, or economic growth, that corruption or wars or famine destroy any ability to create wealth? 

Did she realize that people from those places wonder if their world will end everyday?
But she was right about one thing. Money does have a certain power to seem to make the world start and stop.
After seven years of living in Indonesia, I’ve learned some things about money.
  1.     Money is a big deal.
            Especially the absence of it. I’ve seen and heard of people denied medical treatment—relatively cheap medical treatment—because they didn’t have money. Sometimes they died as a result. In one case,  $30 could have saved a child’s life. I just wish I’d gotten there in time to pay it.

            Sometimes women with no money sell themselves. They may be good, Muslim girls from a mall village. They may have daughters back home who they will never tell. And they make very little money in that business. But when you have nothing, no education, no husband, no hope of a decent job, even that little amount of money becomes a big enough reason to give away your soul.

             Money matters. Poverty can be devastating. Debt can be a prison with no hope of parole.

    2.        Money isn’t that big of a deal.

             Indonesia is filled with people who have few institutionalized safety nets. No insurance. No welfare. No bank accounts. No retirement. Money is stuffed under a mattress until it disappears by the end of the month.

             But they have family. I’m amazed and overwhelmed at story after story of people giving away their tiny, hard-earned savings because an extended family member needs the money for medical care, or for a wedding, or for a funeral.

             And sometimes they have faith. Like the pastor from a small village who is paid in grains of rice. Like the widow who knows she can depend on her friends and family to provide for her. Or the abused wife who believes in a God who somehow brings food to her doorstep—literally—when she most needs it.

In more personal lessons, I’ve learned that while our income may be considered low in the States, we are considered very, very rich here. I’ve learned how to keep a lean budget with ratty envelopes and a decision to not buy so much. We continue to stay out of debt and feel its life-giving power. 

We see supporters give to our ministry even during hard economic times. We try to keep a giving heart in the midst of the need all around us. 

And may we never forget to create treasure that nothing here on this earth can destroy, riches that no one can steal, wealth that won’t end no matter what happens to this world.

photo credit, Images_of_Money

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