I’m in Kenya this week, part of a crew making a documentary for Compassion.
This is my sixth or seventh time to an African country and arriving is always a bit of a sensory overload; hot air, shimmery green grass, red clay roads, belching motorbikes, a blaze of market stalls, swanky hotels, guesthouses made of tin, huge gas-guzzling cars, donkeys, cows and lots and lots of people doing stuff.
The only way I can describe it, is life. People living a busy, industrious, colourful life.
This week I’ve met some pretty amazing people – people who are in dire straights and in need of help, or people who have found a way to survive despite the worst stuff in the world being chucked at them.
I was at church yesterday – a Full Gospel church (and a Compassion project centre) in a very rural area. As the service began to fill up and testimonies were given, I kept hearing stories of gratitude. People were so thankful.
Have to admit, my brain struggled to understand this. Most of the people there were likely living in homes with no water, plumbing or electricity. Jobs are scarce and most people survive by selling bits and pieces or by fishing. Average monthly income for a family; 5000 shillings a month.
So in my head, here was a group of people who had absolutely nothing, but yet were overwhelmingly grateful. What did they have to be grateful for?
One lady got up in church yesterday and succintly answered that question.
I’m grateful to my Lord and Saviour because today, I woke up. Many have not seen the day, but the Lord has given me another day of life‘.
There was a huge chorus of ‘Amens’ and ‘Praise the Lords’. I wanted to jump up and join in.
And see, that’s the difference. In the West, we often link happiness and gratitude to the stuff we have;
I’m grateful for my home, my friends, my car, food, my job…my stuff.
This lady had very few of these things but she was grateful for the one amazing thing she did have – life itself.
She wasn’t the only one to say it – I’ve heard it many times this week;
Thank you Lord for giving me life.
Thank you Lord for breath in my lungs.
Thank you Lord for waking me up today.
And this is where (speaking for myself here), our thinking is often twisted.
My first thought each day is often about stuff I have to do, or stuff I must get. And for many others, life is a thing to be endured, to be anaesthetised against.
I’m not a psychologist but perhaps some of our social problems are because many people just don’t want the life they have, so they endlessly run after another, or try to make the one they have bearable, by following crazy fads, over-eating, over-drinking, over-shopping….all the things which clutter our feelings and help us ‘survive’?
But when you’re in a situation where you simply don’t have stuff or distractions, you either get grateful, or you die.
It’s made me think about the time Jesus said in John 10:10, ‘I’ve come so that they might have life, an abundant life’.
I realise He was mainly talking about the eternal, but I also believe this life is meant to be more than just a tiring endurance race.
In talking about abundance, perhaps Jesus was tipping us off to the fact that life itself is abundance. It’s an extraordinary gift to wake up every day, your heart, lungs and other essential bits still expanding, beating, functioning and living.
I’m not saying that people in developing countries, stuck often in a pretty relentless cycle of poverty, have it all figured out. But from what I can gather, when you’re grateful for life, then everything else on top, is an amazing bonus.
Somehow, having that extraordinary gratitude is what makes life livable for so many people who, in material terms, have very little…but yet, have so much.