Re-Thinking Blessing

"A group of children had gathered outside, wanting a peek at the wazungu (white people).  And as we left the home, a local pastor who had joined us on the trip led the children, who clearly adored him, in a round of a hymn.

"A group of children had gathered outside, wanting a peek at the wazungu (white people).  And as we left the home, a local pastor who had joined us on the trip led the children, who clearly adored him, in a round of a hymn.

He’s sing out, "Are you happy?" and they children, with muddy faces, torn dresses, standing on a trash mound, would shout back, "Yes, we’re happy!" Those children, that pastor, that mothers were rich in faith. And I, with my gleamingly clean apartment back home, 401(k), and stable job, wanted to be like them." (Hope Lives, Amber Van Schooneveld, 2008) 

As I stood in a circle with joyful AIDS orphans in Africa I had to wonder, "which one of us is blessed?"  As I sat in the "home" of a bright-faced woman whose husband left her, had 5 children to take, on medications that made her sick, but were helping her get better, I had to wonder, "which one of us is blessed?"

I went to Africa thinking I would return with guilt.  I thought I would return with feelings of guilt of having so much that they do not have – material things that is, physical health, a large and clean home, relative physical security and what I did not expect is to have feelings of envy.  That’s right, envy of the AIDS orphan and the AIDS infected single mother living with her children in an area the size of my kitchen.  Envy like Amber felt in the story above.  Envy that their joy and their faith was far greater and deeper than anything I had ever known. 

As I thought about this my definition of blessing began to change.  It changes from assuming that blessing is material to truly understanding that it is spiritual.  Of course we could all say  that we acknowledge this truth, but do we truly understand and believe it until we are faced with our own poverty of faith?  That God’s goodness and mercy are given richly to those who suffer and are required to depend on him, that my spiritual poverty was and is greater than their material poverty. 

It sounds crazy, but I was and am envious of the people in Ethiopia that trust God and lean on Him.  I even have the crazy thought that I would want to trade places with them.  Everyone says the grass always looks greener on the other side.  In this instance, I think it is.



  • Heather A. Goodman

    This is powerful. It’s no

    This is powerful. It’s no mistake that history shows the Church’s true power through persecution (not that I pray for persecution!). After all, Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor." Blessed are the unexpected, the hurting, the destitute. They know true hope.

    Thank you for sharing this. It’ll stick with me for a while.

  • Elizabeth McKnight (Nairobi Intl School of Theology)

    Amen! Yes, as a missionary who has just returned to Kenya after our first furlough, I agree with your keen insights. Our American “stuff” and “materialistic” understanding of the term “blessing” is flawed.

    In Christ, we have been given so many incredible and wonderful spiritual blessings. In fact, Paul writes in Ephesians 1 that we have been given “every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies.” Wow, what an amazing truth — but do we really understand who we are as saints in Christ? And, do we really believe it? Let’s not miss it. Profound, deep truth … it’s true in Christ.

    Hope — the African believers who truly hope in Jesus and the Word have an eternal perspective and joy we, “wazungu,” may never have. So many live in such unbelievable, grinding poverty but are so “rich in faith.” It’s humbling, convicting, and wonderfully challenging all at the same time.

    Here in Kenya (a land of great contrasts), we live moment by moment in a strange tension between our western wealth/comfort and the extreme poverty around us. Asante sana (thank you very much) for writing your blog. It’s packed with wisdom which challenges my soul daily. May we all find true “joy” in Christ alone and learn to be “rich in faith.”

  • Gail Seidel

    poverty redefined
    I agree with you Laura, and so identify with your observations….each time our teaching team was in Russia we saw the wealth of faith of our dear Russian sisters. They are the rich ones…and we the poorer – in faith. They enriched us in ways that could never be purchased.