It was called the DRC. Ten years later, I can’t remember what the letters stood for, but I can very clearly remember the sights, the sounds, and the smells of the DRC. Nestled far from the wealthier German and Afrikaner neighborhoods (where I lived) and the townships, it was a refugee camp stuck out in the desert. Namibia was peaceful and safe, and those who were able to flee war, famine, and government oppression in surrounding nations found themselves there. Many of them counted themselves lucky to be in the DRC.
That, of course, is the rosy explanation for the DRC. The truth was that the DRC was unimaginable poverty, especially for an upper middle class American white girl who once thought poverty was being unable to afford a Chili’s Old Timer and being forced to have a McDonald’s Big Mac instead. (By these standards, we Faulks find ourselves in poverty now. Oh, the irony!)
The Baptist church partnered with the Dutch Reformed Church once a month to provide a meal to the children in the DRC. I worked with some DRC kindergarten-aged students in town, teaching them English, so I felt like I was prepared for what I was going to see — tiny, hungry children, often stricken with TB and other illnesses. What I didn’t realize was that the kids I worked with were better off than most, and as I helped to prepare the meal with a rather gruff and rough Afrikaner church lady, I took great offense with the way she spoke about how awful the DRC was and how much she dreaded this visit. How very un-Christlike, I remember thinking, quite un-Christlike in my own assessment of her, honestly.
We loaded up her bakkie and began the long drive out to the DRC. Large houses changed to small houses, those changed to tin metal buildings, then those changed to tents, until eventually, there was very little but harsh desert with what looked like trash gathered together as makeshift shelters. “Get ready,” she cautioned me as she pulled to a stop.
Ready? For what? I stepped out of the truck to find literally hundreds of impossibly tiny, barefooted children, all of them holding whatever they could find to use as bowls, standing two feet from us, crowding in eagerly. This was real, these hungry little ones, waiting for hours on what would probably be the only meal they would get that day, maybe even that week.
I helped set up everything through tears and understood now why my co-worker dreaded seeing these children, watching them grab desperately for the meager food we served, actually being forced to turn away their parents because there just wasn’t enough for everyone… then going back into our seaside town, where tourists ate steak, lobsters, and rich, wild game. What a great disparity, only separated by miles.
I vowed a lot of things during my two years in Namibia. One of the biggest, though, was to remember this. To remember what poverty looked like and to not fall into the trap of living in excess.
And yet, here I sit, in an affluent part of an affluent country, far removed from the majority of the world’s reality. Honestly, I get irritated when the budget tells me that I have to eat at home instead of going out to a restaurant. And my children? They’re learning from my poor example. They honestly think that breakfast should conclude with some sort of dessert. That’s why this from Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7, hit me so hard…
“And tonight my kids here with me in the land of plenty threw away a pound of food because they didn’t have ketchup. How can we extract our children –“
(I would interject — AND MYSELF! — here)
“– from this filthy engine where indulgence and ignorance and ungratefulness and waste are standard protocol? Where they know they can throw perfectly good food away because there is always more in the pantry? I wept for all my children tonight, my Ethiopian children orphaned by disease or hunger or poverty who will go to bed with no mother tonight and my biological children who will battle American complacency and overindulgence for the rest of their lives.”
American complacency and overindulgence. She has my number, folks. And I, of all people, should know better because I’m not ignorant concerning the real needs of people around the world. But I’ve allowed myself to get comfortable in excess.
This chapter was really challenging. The goal she made for herself, for those who haven’t yet read 7, was to limit herself for one month to just seven basic foods. I had trouble figuring out the WHY of this at first. Was she intentionally just trying to live simply? Was it like a fast? Was it some sort of test as to how long she could last without coffee? I spent the first part of the chapter telling myself that there was no way I could live without Coke for even a week and that chicken breasts MUST be seasoned to be edible, and I quickly concluded before I’d even gotten halfway through the chapter that I would want to die if I kept to seven basic foods for any length of time.
And that was a bit of a light bulb moment for me. Apart from my disregard for the rest of the world’s hunger while I enjoy excessive eating, I have to admit that I have a spiritual problem when it comes to food. If my joy is in enjoying food and not in Christ, I have a problem. Perhaps my excess problem exists because I, at my very core, have more regard for food than for Christ.
You know, I expected to read this chapter and conclude that I eat too much. I did NOT, however, expect to read this chapter and conclude that I love Moo Bars more than Jesus.
This is timely for me, as I’m re-reading Made to Crave, trying to adjust to a new city where, honestly, we could spend half of our lives enjoying and overindulging in all the great food they have here. That’s bad enough on it’s own, but when I compare my food obsession with the hunger of the rest of the world? It’s shameful.
I’m not sure how to conclude this other than to say that I’m challenged after having read this chapter and that I have a whole lot to think about…