It is quite possible to live a Western style of life here in Kenya; many (particularly in the cities) do. They have lovely homes with electricity and running water, perhaps a car, and ample food. Their children attend quality schools. They wear nice clothes, get their hair done, and enjoy many modern conveniences and entertainments. I’m not just talking about foreigners living here, but native Africans. There are opportunities to earn a good wage, and many do. As a result, they also enjoy the corresponding standard of living.
Such is not the case, however, in most rural places, including the village in which we reside. Though not a recent article, a report in Jamhuri Magazine shows how Kenya compares on the per capita income scale, rating as a “very poor” country with an average annual income of $1,000 to $2,000 per person. In our area, I would say that the average person makes a few hundred shillings per day, which translates to 10800 KSH annually. That converts to $1278 USD, which corresponds well with the Jamhuri estimates.
As I said in a previous post about a very blessed day, in which our family enjoyed some time away and a good meal, Marc and I always carefully consider our financial decisions in light of these figures. Though we have a Western income (albeit now lower than it used to be), we hesitate to live a lifestyle that is vastly different from our neighbors. We feel guilty for spending as much on a one-day pleasure outing as our neighbors would use to feed themselves for…months? When some folks can’t afford basic medicine for emergency needs and we easily spend money on preventative vitamin supplements, we sense the unfairness of it. Granted, having more money than some isn’t a sin, and neither is it wrong to enjoy some things in life. But living here where poverty is quite in-your-face, the fine line that defines “too much,” isn’t actually so fine, and the delicate balance of needs versus wants tips quite a bit more easily in favor of very basic needs than it did when we lived in the States.
Our family went out to eat twice last year–once about a month after our arrival, and once just after Christmas when we visited Kisumu. Marc also occasionally treats one of the kids to a meal when they are chosen to go into town with him on errands. We eat meat much more frequently than our neighbors do (once or twice a week). Instead of ugali with every meal, we often eat spaghetti, rice, bread, or potatoes–all of which have a higher price tag than plain maize. While they typically have one or two outfits of “work” clothes and one “nice” outfit, we have a half-dozen changes of clothes each. Many here sleep on burlap sacks, mats, or thin foam mattresses. We were just blessed to be able to buy a pillow-top mattress to replace our compressed foam–a gift designed to assist Marc’s recovery from the motorbike accident. A Bible here is a treasured addition to the home, as the possession of books is rare indeed. We brought a small library of books with us from the states, knowing how hard it would be to homeschool without them.
As you can see, there is a great financial and material chasm between “us” and “them,” no matter how much we feel we have sacrificed in comparison to our previous style of life in America (which was not extravagant by any stretch of the imagination). No matter how much food, medicine, clothing, or financial assistance we are able to give, it’s still just a drop in the bucket compared to the number of needs out there.
What does God desire? Is it “that there might be equality”? (See 2 Corinthians 8:13-14). That goes against our capitalist and independent American way of thinking, doesn’t it? At the same time, if we were to live a lavish lifestyle when others lack money to pay for malaria medicine, antibiotics, and nutritious food, how would God judge us?
Here is our standard–one that we continually examine ourselves in light of:
31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Living in a Kenyan village is hard, not because we’ve sacrificed to do so, but because we’re constantly faced with the realization that we could be doing more. Making moment-by-moment choices that used to be easy has become much more difficult. However, I think that living with this constant “tug” in regard to our finances and our expenditures is a good thing–it means that God is at work in us, showing us His ideal, and we’re doing our best to respond. It’s a journey…