Recently, we had a missionary preacher at our church to speak about his experiences and stir up interest for a Vacation Bible School that would be happening in Jamaica in July. Among other things, he had a long set of Powerpoint slides detailing pictures and experiences while doing foreign missionary work.
A couple of items stood out most to me, and those would be mentions of droves of people being baptized at once or coming from afar to attend services; and mentions of people living in sub-poverty conditions (by American standards) yet being content with what they had. After thinking about it for a bit, I do not think these two items (enthusiasm for the Gospel + contentment despite poverty) are independent.
One particular anecdote stood out to me. He recounted his experience with a Jamaican women with 6 children, 2 of whom she had not given birth to. He showed a picture of her hut, which consisted of scrap lumber, plywood, and sheet metal, probably scavenged from wherever she could find it. Obviously there were no utilities / luxuries such as running water, electricity, climate control. Yet he also showed a picture of a handwritten sign she had in her house, which said something along the lines of "Thank You God for providing for all my needs."
At this point, it's quite appropriate to mention Proverbs 30:7-9, one of my favorites. Usually when I am asked to say the prayer before the offering/contribution, I make some mention of the principle(s) in this passage:
7Two things I asked of You,
Do not refuse me before I die:
8Keep deception and lies far from me,
Give me neither poverty nor riches;
Feed me with the food that is my portion,
9That I not be full and deny You and say, "Who is the LORD?"
Or that I not be in want and steal,
And profane the name of my God.
That particular Sunday, on the way home, we had a conversation about why we seemed to hear such stories (foreign/third world people flocking to hear the message) from missionaries but never as much from people living in industrialized countries. We theorized a couple of reasons. People in such countries: 1) have grown up exposed to less-than-optimal representations of what they think is Christianity, thus growing calloused to the true Gospel, 2) have the "riches" spoken of in verse 8, thus not really feeling a need to add piety on top of their shopping list. After all, we are all too busy making money to go to church and think a few spiritual thoughts every now and then. And let's not forget Matthew 19:23-24:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
We are no doubt "rich" here in America. Our grocery stores are always stocked, our pantries just as much, gas prices are reasonable even if they have risen recently, we have nice cars, and our houses are comparatively gigantic. Most of us, fully including me, have no idea what it is like to be truly poor. Thus, as Christians, we must be careful to be content with what we have (or much less) and not covet more and more that we don't truly need. There are more important things in life than stuff.