Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Adjustments Part One- Poverty

This being the first post of this series, there is a plethora of examples of adjustments that we are making that I could write about. But the adjustment that seems the most difficult to deal with right now is living in a country in which most of its citizens live under the poverty level. Here are just a few specific things I am struggling with right now:

  • It bothers me that when we come out of the grocery store after our weekly shopping trip, the food we are carrying to the tuk tuk (a small cart pulled by a motorcycle- common transportation in Phnom Penh and Bangkok) is worth more than a month's pay for the average Cambodian. Sometimes, the tuk tuk driver, or other people standing nearby, will ask, "How much did you pay for all of that?" I just ignore that question- not because I am offended (although I am still adjusting to a culture in which those kind of questions are acceptable), but because I am embarrassed to tell them, "Sixty dollars." 
  • It bothers me that when I am bartering for a good price for a tuk tuk, I am attempting to lower the price by one measly dollar. For me, one dollar is not going to make a difference in the least. But for the tuk tuk driver, he is fighting to get every last penny he can make just to meet his basic needs. Bartering is a legitimate defense mechanism for foreigners, if it is done reasonably. In most cases, if a tuk tuk driver can get you to pay $20 for a $4 trip, they will do it without blinking. Usually, if you don't already know a suitable price for a certain distance, and you ask the tuk tuk driver how much he expects, you can almost guarantee he is going to overcharge you by at least a dollar or two. The problem is that if we just pay without bartering down to the standard accepted price, the standard accepted price will start going up- for everyone, even Cambodians who can't afford to pay more. But even knowing that, it still seems ridiculous that I am bartering over one dollar.
  • It bothers me that when I am soul winning, I hear comments like, "Why are you giving me this tract? How about some money instead!" or "If I come to your church, can you give me a job?" or "If I come to your church, will you give me money?" Honestly, I can't blame them for asking these questions! If I were in their situation, I would probably be doing the same thing! But it still bothers me- not because I am annoyed by their questions, but because it is such a challenge to get them to see their SPIRITUAL needs.
  • It bothers me that less than a mile from my house, at the Wat Phnom (one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the city), foreign men mainly from Europe- some from the U.S. and Australia- meet there as a rendezvous point to pick up and abuse children who have been sold into prostitution. In some cases, the parents are the ones responsible for selling their children- a hideous act of desparation. In some cases, the children have been abducted. This is another result- in my opinion, the most cruel of all- of a country being poverty-stricken. 
Of course, the last struggle that I mentioned is not only a reflection of physical poverty; it is more a reflection of spiritual poverty. And that is the need that we have come to meet. If I can be used of God to meet someone's physical needs, that is wonderful. But if I meet the physical need of a person without addressing the spiritual need, I have done absolutely nothing for that person. In fact, I have sinned against him and against God.


  1. As I view the environment that you are living in with bewilderment and curiosity so must the Cambodians view you and your family. For you represent an opposite to them and for me they are the opposites. Yet to prove that God is no respect or of persons. Rather he loves us no matter what end of the spectrum our environment takes us. Thank you for your writing and I look forward to learning more about how God works in this universe. My family continues to pray for safety and for the strength of your family in his work.

  2. You definitely started with the one I would have started with. It's so hard to know how to handle these situations. We have to adjust to it without getting used to it. Getting used to it is the first step towards getting callous. Over and over in this post you used the phrase "it bothers me". That's good. May it always be that way.