Perspective. It’s a funny thing. It’s one of those things that comes by way of experience, impacted by relationships and circumstances. Last week, I wrote about some of the ways living in New Zealand has given me perspective on how much disposable income many Americans and New Zealanders have—and how much is available for the average person’s disposal, but I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t take it one step further.
One of the things I love about living in NZ is that it is such a diverse place. In our small congregation we typically worship with people from 7 or more different countries. Because of this incredible diversity we have had the opportunity to build wonderful friendships with people from around the world. What I have learned from some of these relationships is that often those who have the least are the least concerned with getting more. In fact, we have witnessed and experienced incredible acts of generosity from people who understand that stewardship is the responsibility of all who would call themselves Christian whether rich or poor.
One of those people is a friend from a small island country. She has never owned a car and had never buckled a seat belt in a car before buckling up in our passenger seat. Our friend is a single mom studying in New Zealand, far from her young boys, so she can provide a better life for her family. She is (probably unknowingly) helping us gain some much-needed perspective.
Did you know that if you live in the United States, are married with two kids and make $100,000 per year that you are in the top 2.5% of income earners in the entire world? If you are that same family and you make $50,000 per year (just under the national average) you are in the top 8.7% of income earners in the world. Click here to enter your income and see where you stand in terms of world incomes. Did you do it? Kind of puts things into perspective, huh?!
The point is that rarely do we as Americans or Kiwis have any reason to call ourselves poor or act like we don’t have enough. Perhaps our finances are tight because of decisions we have made about what kind of cars we will drive, and how nice our house has to be, or any number of other things. But in truth, these are decisions only the wealthy have the privilege of making.
In fact, Americans and New Zealanders alike are richer than they have ever been, and for the most part give less to charitable causes than they ever have. Even the majority of Christians are unlikely to financially support the ministry of their church in an ongoing way, much less give to other ministries or organizations.
As I meet people from around the world, as I work alongside pastors who have immigrated to NZ who work all day in the secular world in order to support their ministry and then sign up to take bachelors courses at night so they can better serve the church, and as I am confronted with the generosity of those who perhaps steward much smaller storehouses, my perspective continues to grow.
Take our friend from that small island country, for example. She lives on a small stipend meant to cover her living expenses. Out of that, each month she sends as much money as she possibly can to her parents in order to provide for her boys. Yet, before she does any of those things, she gives a tithe of her meager income, and then she gives above and beyond that to help support the work of the church. Every. Single. Month.
My hope and prayer is that we, both from America and New Zealand, will come to terms with the incredible wealth with which we have been blessed. I pray that our perspective would be shaped by the knowledge that we are stewards of significant resources and that stewards carry a heavy responsibility. For that which we have been granted is not for the building of our own kingdom, but instead for investment in the Kingdom that will never spoil or fade. Let us be one in the spirit of generosity and may our faithfulness in this area grow and bear much fruit.