Friday, November 7, 2008

Three Simple Steps

Why have I been going on and on about numbers and consumerism and more numbers? C’mon! Lighten up, right? What’s so important about how many cups we use as a society anyway? From all those pictures in my previous posting, one might think that all I’m concerned about is how much ends up in our landfills. Though that might be a valid concern, it’s not something I think about much.

I don’t get stirred up about consumerism for ecological reasons. In fact, my primary concern about consumerism isn’t even about excess. That’s because the Bible isn’t against wealth. In fact, it says that wealth is from God. My primary concern about consumerism is about needs – desperate needs. We as Westerners have so much to share, and can easily do so with little impact on our comfortable Western lifestyles. And if we actually do want to impact our lifestyles, there are people in this world who truly need the help we can offer.

All it takes is a little investigating, a little thought, and then a decision or two.

Investigating is easy. For example, just try doing a Google search on the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN has recently declared it to be the worst place in the world to be a child. If you really want to know, keep reading and you’ll discover that earlier this year, a UNICEF report declared that the DRC was one of 11 countries where 20% of children die before the age of five. According to other news clips you’ll find, at the beginning of 2008, 45,000 people were dying each month, nearly half of them children, and the fighting has recently intensified!

If you want to know details, the Guardian in the UK reported that The International Rescue Committee said preventable diseases and starvation aggravated by conflict have claimed 5.4 million lives since the beginning of the second Congo war in 1998, equivalent to the population of Denmark. Although the war officially ended in 2002, malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition continue to claim thousands of lives. The study of 14,000 households across Congo between January 2006 and April 2007 found that nearly half of all the deaths were of children under the age of five, who make up only 19% of the population.” This is why many people don’t take this first step – the truth is too awful to know, the images too hard to see.

But if you get that far, the next thing you’ll want to investigate is who’s offering meaningful help? I tend to check Samaritan’s Purse first, and I generally find that they’re involved in the area I’m concerned about. But another Google search will reveal many agencies helping in any significant crisis.

If you’ve taken the time to investigate a situation like that, you’re already way ahead of your average Western consumer. Way to go! Now step 2 is to simply think a little. Think about whether you want to give once in awhile to needs like these, or on a routine basis. If you only want to do it once in awhile, just think about how much you can spare right now – how much money do you have to give? That’s what most people do. They give occasionally as situations arise. Giving routinely is simply unaffordable to many because their budget is maxed out with too many other monthly bills and payments.

This is where my concerns with consumerism arise, and this is where it’s worth thinking about what we can do without in order to give more generously to desperately needy people. It’s this kind of regular giving that makes a huge difference to those trying to feed the hungry, but it’s also the kind that requires sacrifice from a people who are used to having what they want when they want it.

And that brings us to step 3: a decision or two. What regular expense will I give up so that I can afford to give regularly to those who need my help? Will it be a few of those 410,000 coffee cups that are used every 15 minutes? Or will it be a few of those 2 million plastic beverage bottles that are used every 5 minutes? Once you get used to thinking this way, you may consider giving up things of even more value in your life, like instead of buying as many CDs or DVDs, I’ll give to others instead. Or maybe, spend less on sports or leisure activities. For us, this is a primary reason we gave up cable TV at our house.

The challenge for us all is to match our Western lifestyles with the compassion and convictions of our hearts. What can you do? Investigate. Think a little about your consumer lifestyle. Then, make a decision or two. If we all do that, those three simple steps will make a huge difference in a world of need!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

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