Money and the missionary

Extreme wealth and poverty right alongside each other.

Living in Cambodia as a foreigner is like living with two personalities. It’s like living as a king and pauper at the same time.

Very aware of how much money we have as westerners as we ride past kids working instead of going to school, or when the street sweeper is so glad for your empty cans. In our daily life we are confronted with how much we have and how little others have. Why do we feel frustrated at losing 50 cents when really we can handle it? There are so many here with so little. Even the growing middle class here has a vastly reduced spending power compared to us Westerners. Our daily experience shows us a reality that is harder to see living in Australia. That is, our wealth.

Yet, in that same breath, we are living off less than we did in Australia. We are able to do less here than we would in Australia. We hear from friends and family and all that they are doing. So, while we are confronted with our wealth, we also are conflicted with memories and experiences of having more in Australia.

This perspective, living with both lots of money and with less, is a blessing because it’s a challenge. Particularly, this is seen in killing the unnecessary want to have more and more or to acquire the new and better things that I find myself more easily seduced by back in Australia. When others around me don’t have as much, it helps me to not want as much either. I’m able to see more clearly the ridiculousness and lie of materialism. So the blessing of living in Cambodia is that it rightly forces me to think through what we have and what we value.

I know that it will be hard to keep this perspective in our return. I hope I can, to some extent. But this perspective has been strengthened by living in a place with less. Leaving a place of less, and heading to a place of more, will make it harder to be challenged in this same way.

The clash of extreme wealth in a country where many live in poverty

Fav Provs 28: Blessings as side affects.

Proverbs 28:20


A faithful person will be richly blessed,

but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.

Two surprises arise from this proverb. The first is that blessing comes not from seeking blessing (as the one eager to get rich). Blessing comes to the one who is faithful. In this sense blessings are indirect. The problem, then, is not riches per se, but the eagerness to get rich. We can enjoy blessing,1 but eagerness for riches pushes us past proper conduct into punishment. I think the proverb is underlining that the one who is eager to get rich pushes past others, pushes others down or forgets about others. They end up hurting others in the pursuit of riches. In contrast, the one who is faithful (I take faithful as thankful the blessings God has given them) already as “the other” in mind, since thankfulness is the implicit recognition of a gift from someone else. The take home is that blessings are side affects and shouldn’t be the goal.

The second surprise is that those eager to get rich don’t just end up poor, as you’d expect. Instead they’re punished.

On a slight tangent/rant…

I wonder if this proverb also speaks to the faithfulness/fruitfulness debate.2 The usual answer to this dilemma, made by those who are aiming at fruitfulness, is that it doesn’t need to be one or the other, but both. However, those on the faithfulness camp would argue that faithfulness is more important that fruitfulness.

This proverb might say something to both, affirming the priority of faithfulness, but also the importance of fruitfulness. It could do this by affirming that its fruitfulness through faithfulness.

In the end, I can’t help but wondering whether both sides (me included) should heed the warning of Proverbs 14:12 – “there is a way that appears right, but in the end it leads to death.” To me, I see this as a caution about siding with one particular approach as “the right” way.

  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the use of blessing and riches is intentional. In this proverb, riches becomes an adjective of blessing, a description or one part of it. You could say riches-as-blessing is a narrow view, or just one part of blessing. 
  2. The faithfulness/fruitfulness is the debate over which approach is better – to seek to be faithful (stay true) or to seek to be fruitful (spread and grow).