It was 2002. I was going home to Swakopmund via Johannesburg, and on the flight with me was another American. She was a Peace Corps worker in Tsumeb… well, not Tsumeb technically but one of these far-reaching Oshiwambo towns that wasn’t on a map. Tsumeb itself hardly made the map, but I knew just where it was. Once the plane landed, we exchanged phone numbers, and a few months later, she called and invited me on a “tour of the north” with her and three other Peace Corps workers. I left my little modern seaside paradise town, took a crowded bakkie up to Tsumeb, and off we went!
“The north” in Namibia is very remote. Four wheel drive is a must, as there are large areas without roads. Desert elephants, giraffes, and zebras are as common a sight as the topless Himba women who live in actual mud huts and walk several kilometers every day to get basic necessities. It was a culture shock to me… but not as great a shock as not having a shower. I’m not much for grunge, and after only two days sans shower, I was an unhappy camper. Quite literally. Rinsing off in the Kuene River along the Angolan border sufficed early on (until I saw that there were baboons watching me from the shore and someone mentioned the possibility of HIPPOS in the water), and by the time we reached Epupa Falls, I was singing praises as loudly as I could because the campsite had the coldest, most amazing open shower in all of the world. I probably could have caught pneumonia out there, but hallelujah! It would have been worth it.
Our tour ended in Swakopmund, where I invited all four of my new friends to stay at my apartment for the weekend. One of them emerged from the shower that first night and, with tears in her eyes said, “You have hot water.” Unbeknownst to me, our rugged week in the north was NOT rugged for them. They didn’t have hot water in their towns, and as was the case for a couple of them, they didn’t have ANY running water in their homes.
Needless to say, I think each one of them averaged four showers a day that weekend. (And don’t even get me started on how excited they were about my microwave, my VCR, and the KFC that was just down the road from me.)
These girls came to Namibia out of a desire to do something good. They were all teachers, focused on ending poverty, but only one of them knew Jesus. They had no eternal reason for forsaking warm showers for two years — just a desire to do something good in the here and now. I, on the other hand, had come to Namibia for an eternal reason. I wasn’t bringing just good will — I was bringing the Good News. But if you had told me that there would be no hot showers for two years? Well, my devotion for Christ would have paled in comparison to their devotion to humanity.
It’s a sad, sad day when the lost can forsake comfort to make the world a better place and the saved can’t forsake hot showers for the glory of God.
Maybe not “the saved.” Maybe just me.
When I read this chapter about selling everything I have and giving it to the poor, I… hesitate. Does Jesus really want me to do this? You know, I thought I was being very bold to go overseas after college. I thought I was being radical when we sold our cars and moved to Japan after seminary. And we were just being out and out CRAZY when we moved to the middle of rural Oklahoma. (For real. More foreign to Texans than the jungles of Vietnam, y’all.) But selling everything? And beyond just possessions… forsaking things like hot water? We don’t consider ourselves rich by any means, but when we read statistics about how we’re in the top 15% of the world’s wealthiest people simply because we have running water, I’m forced to change my perspective.
Wes and I adopted a Compassion child in Uganda when we were newlyweds. We were both still full time seminary students, working part time as janitors, and the monthly contribution was really a sacrifice. As time went on and our financial situation improved, we didn’t do much more than we had been doing for our little friend in Uganda. We got notices about sending our Compassion child a Christmas gift last year but said we couldn’t afford it. As is customary with Compassion, I believe, they took what money was given by sponsors with children in that particular center and split it evenly between all of the children. So, we, who hadn’t been able to “afford” a gift, received a letter from our child thanking us for the gift that had enabled him to buy a new pair of pants. A pair of pants. That we said we couldn’t afford.
My name is Jennifer, and I’m addicted to hot water. And I “can’t afford” a pair of pants in Uganda.
This is a sobering blog post. It was a sobering chapter. And I could tell you that we’ve gotten better, that I’ve gotten better, but when I’m confronted with the percentages, numbers, and stories of poverty… well, here I write from my computer with my cable TV on in the background, not even sure what to say.
God, make my life about more than the here and now. Make me about more than myself.