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Materialism: Reflections on returning home

1 July 2012 | by Linda Lewis

Materialism: Reflections on returning home

To live in a developing country for a long period of time is both an education and a challenge. It gives a perspective on life that I had never been exposed to before. The facets of life that are part of it are so diverse it is hard to even begin to get to grips with them. Language, culture and climate are all so different and bring a mystifying array of challenges to the preconceived ideas of a former life that seemed to work so well.

A developing country has so little of what we know materially in the western world. The objects that we value highly sometimes do not exist or are way beyond the salary of folk we worked with. Even the basics of life, like running water, electricity, and gas, are not usually the norm in people’s homes. Homes themselves are nothing like we imagine. They can be bits of wood, cardboard and corrugated iron nailed together at best or even tied together. For some their homes are totally made of bush materials. The number of people that can inhabit such a dwelling is very imaginative. It is so far removed from even a modest two bedroomed terraced house that we might consider quite small.

Christmas reminded me of toys for the children we lived amongst – elastic bands and small stones would provide hours of fun. Paper screwed up tightly in a plastic bag would suffice for a football or rugby ball. A bamboo cane and a few marbles would be all that was needed to play a game of snooker. This was of course for the boys. The girls would be employed at a very early age to fetch and carry water, to carry a small baby around on their hip or they may be found with their arms up to their elbows in a bucket of water doing the family wash. The focus of the Christmas period was always worship and fellowship and not presents and decorating homes.

There were of course those who did have more than the basics, some who had come into money through oil, logging or other means. There were some making their way in business or politics too. The extremes were often immense and not too easy to cope with.

Living and serving the Lord in this kind of environment brought many challenges to us personally as to the standard at which we lived ourselves.

A shock to the system

Returning to the UK though has probably faced us with just as many issues as we transition back to a western lifestyle. So much has changed in the many years we were away.

One of my immediate full in the face shocks was to walk into a supermarket at Christmas time and see an aisle full of chocolate and sweets. Then the fruit and vegetables were now available not only pre-packed but all cut up and prepared for you; to top it all the next area was full of ready cooked meals – all you  had to do was put them in the oven or microwave. Were people now unable to do it for themselves, I wondered? There was so much choice, to make decisions as to what to buy caused me to feel shell-shocked. I was literally rooted to the spot!

Now as we live through a recession the choices we all make are an interesting insight as to what is deemed valuable and necessary. What do we really need to live and function well? As a Christian seeking to live and serve the Lord what kind of example is not a hindrance to others as well as my own Christian life? It would be very easy to begin to list things that have hit me as excesses in the lives of fellow Christians but it would be critical and judgemental and of no value at all. It was challenging to me to read an article in the Times of a woman who bought no new clothes for a whole year.  How much of a challenge would that be?

I am very interested to have become more and more aware in the years since we have returned to the UK of the obsessions and overwhelming focus that some folk have in their lives that bring them to a state of being in so many ways disabled by them. They are bound by things or practices that control them and direct their lives in such a way as to affect them in a disastrous way. It is so sad to see.

What choices do I make?

To set our affections on things above, to store up treasure in heaven is the call upon our lives as Christians. We all know we cannot take our goods with us, so why do we focus on them so much? Why do we spend so much time and effort in pleasures and pastimes that are of so little eternal value? It might be a good test to set ourselves one week, to see what choices we are making in different areas of life.

  • What am I spending my money on and do I really need it?
  • What am I spending my time being involved in?
  • What relationships could do with being strengthened?
  • Can I serve the Lord in another way this week?
  • What am I giving to the Lord and what am I giving to others?
  • Is the Lord challenging me to give up something?
  • How much time am I spending on the internet, Facebook or my mobile? (Are they controlling me or am I controlling them?)

Matthew 6 :32 often comes to my mind, ‘For the Pagans run after all these things and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them.’ I too often think like the world.

This really is where our brothers and sisters abroad had the better focus; the family, the tribe and the clan meant so much more to them than anything else. They would give sacrificially. They would love unconditionally. They would share their problems and even die for a brother or sister. They would spend quality time together, always greet one another and strangers as they passed each other in the street. Grieving together was an experience not to be missed: they shared their memories of a loved one, they ate together, cried together and had Christian fellowship and worship together at such a time. It was such a cathartic time. Everyone came away from such an event sensing the loss was shared together. The commitment and unity amongst them was amazing.

We seem to have become so isolated in our lives, there is a huge breakdown in the family, and relationships are failing at every turn with very little surprise, sadness, or resolve to do anything about it. The fruit of a self-centred life seems to be being reaped a hundredfold. This will no doubt continue to affect the work and witness of the local church and bring much dishonour to the Lord. There is always much more strength in those who join together in unity for a good purpose. The encouragement and fellowship is sweet.

The responsibility upon us is huge and it seems as if it is high time we reminded ourselves of Ephesians 5:14-15: ‘Awake O sleeper  and arise from the dead and Christ will shine on you. Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.’

Linda Lewis was a missionary in Papua New Guinea for many years. She is a member of Emmanuel Evangelical Church, Newport.