When I left America I was very aware that 5,000 people die each day because they lack clean water. I knew countless women die each year because they lack proper pre-natal care. I knew girls can’t attend school because they spend too much time collecting water from ponds miles and miles away. I knew women are raped because they don’t have a safe place to go to the bathroom. I knew men often come home to their families empty handed because they can’t find work and, as a result, can’t buy food. I knew much of Africa lacks electricity. I knew human slavery still exists.
And because of all this, I thought I was blessed.
I have clean water and it’s only a few steps away. I have access to thousands of doctors for any sickness I can think of. I go to school. I have a bathroom with a lock on the door in my big house with more locks. I have food on the counter, in my fridge and in the pantry. Every room in my house can be lit whenever I want, except during the occasional thunderstorm. And the only thing I’m forced to do are things my parents ask, such as picking up my shoes and taking my elbows off the table while we eat. I left America fully aware of everything I had that others lacked, and I thought these things made me blessed.
I arrived in Africa and things were much like I had heard – trash lined the streets, parasites lined the water and kids did not line the schools. Poverty was redefined. People still suffered from leprosy, homelessness was magnified, the same hole filled clothes worn every day.
Yet the more I saw this, the more I understood how poor I was.
You see, despite the poverty, I met some of the most joyful people in those dirty side streets that I have ever met in my life. The kids with torn clothes also have bright eyes and happy smiles. Students skip class to share the Gospel. People are late to meetings to strengthen relationships with old friends, family members or a random stranger over coffee. People with little give anyway. They have community. They remember your name. They lay down their cultural differences and beliefs to laugh with you. They do what they say. They’re passionate – oh gosh are they passionate. They pray for hours. They dance, jump around, and bow on their knees while singing praises to Jesus. They know their neighbors. They willingly sacrifice themselves, their time and their often few possessions for their communities.
The longer I was there, the more I realized… I am poor. We are poor.
We have poor attitudes without cause, we are poor witnesses. We have poor relationships and we act poor when it is time to give. We have a poor understanding of what it means to do what we say. We have a poor understanding of what it means to be blessed.
Thankfully, Jesus gives us a very clear picture of what “blessed” really means. Matthew 5:3-11 says,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”
We are not blessed because of the things we have. Not only is that materialistic, it’s also very conceited. By believing I was blessed based on all the things I had that others didn’t, I’m essentially saying that I am blessed because of me. It becomes all about me, all about what I have.
Jesus shows us in Matthew 5 that we are blessed because of God. We are blessed because of what God has done for us, is doing for us and will continue to do for us. We are blessed because He will comfort us, because He will give us the earth, because He will fill us with righteousness, because He will show us mercy, because He will reveal Himself to us, because He will call us children, because He will give us the Kingdom of Heaven, and because of Jesus.
It is all about Jesus. It isn’t about us. It isn’t about me.