Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mission and Poverty or Wealth Cultures

It is interesting to wonder if, or how, one might be who they are if you put them in a different context. For instance, would the scores of wealthy North American church members have faith if they lived in a dump city in an undeveloped country? If our world is turned upside down would we find God to be loving, caring, and redeeming? How much is our theology driven by cause and effect thinking?

Yesterday I touted the value of IBMR. That reading on witchcraft, which is a normative culture in many places, got me to thinking about the role of culture in my faith. In particular, I started thinking about wealth and poverty. Sure enough, IBMR quickly revealed an article that helped my thinking on this intriguing issue.

A mission professor shared what he learned from Christians in Malawi. Professor Doss wrote, "Yet even for those who suffered most, the worst pain was neither physical nor material but social and relational. Poverty isolated individuals from the group and made them feel inferior."

Here's an extended section from Doss which is most informative as I puzzle on these matters:
A study of Chichewa and Chitumbuka words for wealth and poverty is illuminating. One of the main sets of words suggests a thematic difference from the West in viewing wealth and poverty. A wealthy person is 'one who finds well' (opeza bwino), while a poor person is 'one who does not find well' (osa peza bwino). 'Finding' (peza) with regard to money is used so frequently that it seems like a cultural theme. The 'finding' motif contrasts with the Western 'having' motif ('the haves' and 'the have nots'). 
The having motif suggests the accumulation of and management of capital such as real estate or money by people whose daily survival is not in question. The finding motif suggests the discovery, distribution, and consumption of supplies essential for daily survival. Traditional Malawi had simple housing, no banks, and no technology for long-term food storage, making significant capital accumulation impossible and unhelpful.
The finding motif overturns certain stereotypical Western views about Africans and poverty. For Africans, the whole ethos of resource management is that of an active, dynamic pursuit of essential resources in a highly contingent, disorderly, and unpredictable universe. This perspective produces a work ethic that is different from, but no less vigorous than, that of the West.
IBMR is a great resource! Find more to this story, once you are logged in, at A Malawian Christian Theology of Wealth and Poverty. Or, if you desire a straightforward account of how rich people don't get happy with more money check out  "What Wealth Does to Your Soul.".

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