Broke in Senegal

September 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

Being broke is no fun!

I know that from experience, as do many of you, though some may have to dig a bit deeper for that memory than others.

For most folks in Senegal, being broke is a daily experience.

My driver, Jeannot, carried the Pathfinder Monday to have a brake job. When he returned, knowing he had been out in the hot sun all afternoon, I offered to buy him a soft drink. He told me that he would rather have the money; that he didn’t have anything in his pocket. Thankfully, he will get paid on Wednesday.

Almost every day I receive some request for financial assistance. Since school is about to start, parents have been lining up outside my office door the last two weeks asking if the mission (or me and Kittie!) will pay their children’s tuition. Although tuition is not high here by American standards – only about a $30 dollar registration fee and about $15 per month – it is a lot if you only make $200 per month and have three or four children.

Although Kittie and I had some tight times raising three kids on a preacher’s and a teacher’s salary, we always managed to have money for their school.

And if I didn’t, I knew my Mama would find it. However, from what I can see here, there is no fall back to parents. In fact, once parents retire, it is the children’s responsibility to provide for them.

My friend Tom Corson, the Executive Director at SIFAT — a wonderful mission ministry near my home in Randolph County, AL — told me a very moving story just before my arrival here in January 2009. This story has become very real to me during my time in Senegal.

It seems that one of the students in their 2008 International Training Practicum — where they train folks from all over the world in appropriate and practical technology — was from an African country, Cameroon or Kenya as I remember. Toward the end of the ten-week training, the leader for the day asked the students, “What has been the biggest change in your life since your arrival at SIFAT?”

The student replied, “I no longer pray for daily bread.”

Now, was that a good or bad thing?

In Senegal, as in all developing countries, the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, “Give us this day our daily bread,” is real and personal.

I’m learning some really important things here in Senegal. One of them: the poor are very special to Jesus.

“Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).

Jesus even told his disciples not to worry about where their next meal was coming from, or where they were going to get the clothes to put on their backs; to not worry about tomorrow. (Mt. 5)

Sometimes I think Jesus must have been crazy for that sure doesn’t make any sense in the economics I learned and have always respected.

Could it be that this kind of need creates a unique closeness to God: a closeness that folks who never have to worry about daily bread will never know? Should we hope and pray we never have to find that out?

The last time I looked none of my friends had made it onto the Forbes list of the richest people in the world. Perhaps that is why we never think Jesus is talking about us when he points an accusing finger at the rich folks. Maybe it is a blessing that we are blessed to miss.

It is hard for me to see the blessing in poverty. Instead, I see the faces of desperation, the splotched skin, the children and disabled begging on the streets, which are its victims.

I do see the blessing of helping those in poverty almost every day. The smiles, the tears of appreciation, the words: “Thank you, Papa Paul!” My hunch is that is why those of us who do what I do keep doing it.

If you want to help some of these kids to go to school this year, just let me know. I promise that I will pass along their smiles, tears, and hugs to you when I see you in October and November.

And don’t worry about giving too much! There are plenty of other needs over here we can pass the money on to.

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