I am a rich person.
By the end of this article, you might conclude that you are a rich person too.
I’ve long since wondered what I should do with the awkwardness that I feel knowing that I am rich in the presence of those with whom I minister.
A little about my context:
My wife and I live in Alotau (city), Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea (country). I live a double life. To many of you, I’m the financial guy who blogs about the topic of money and the Bible. However, what you don’t see is that I spend most of my day sitting with, talking to, studying with, and getting to know the world’s poor. Most of my closest PNG friends make under $1,000 USD per year.
There is a huge gulf. I am a rich man in the midst of the poor.
These pictures are taken at the house of one of the people I interviewed.
What Do The Poor Have To Say About The Rich?
After church one Sunday, I asked some folks from church if they wouldn’t mind coming to my house to help me work on a project. The instructions were blissfully unclear and everyone willingly agreed.
They also don’t know that I live a double life. Only a couple in the group had ever even heard of the Internet and none of them knew I was doing any writing on the topic of Bible and money.
I invited some fellow church members to my house for lunch. John, Siggy, Ponifasio, Lorraine, Rizpha, Susan, and Joel are good representatives of the standard of living in and around Alotau. I fed them some sandwiches so everyone would be in good spirits, and I told them what we were going to talk about – money.
I stated the obvious. “I know, and you know I’m rich”. In terms of the world, you would be called ‘the world’s poor’.” I pleaded with them to be completely honest with me – don’t sugar coat what you want to say – tell me what the world’s poor have to say about their lives, the rich, and the gospel.
Question #1: What must a person accumulate or have to be considered rich?
The folks in Milne Bay are shy people. Furthermore, they aren’t given to asking or responding to direct questions. My question stunned them into silence. They knew we were about to step onto thin ice. We were going to talk directly about the topic of wealth and poverty. For a full 45 seconds everyone avoided eye contact and no one spoke.
I decided I needed to find a backdoor to get access to the information I was seeking.
I went around the room person by person and asked them the question, “Are you rich?” All, understandably, said no – if I was speaking about material things. But, there was still one person I didn’t ask the question to – myself.
Question #2: What about me? Am I rich?
Almost instantaneously their faces were plastered with sly smirks. The smirk said it all – of course you are rich. Shortly thereafter, everyone verbally affirmed their non-verbal expression by saying yes, I am rich.
Question #3: So what makes me rich? What do I have that makes you think I am rich?
Interestingly, the first answer was my skin color – I am a Caucasian. Then they gave some details about what you must possess or have to be categorized as rich:
- A job
- Shop for food any time you want
- House with lights, a house made of materials not taken from the bush
- No worries about tomorrow’s needs
- Have pride [with pride she meant confidence] and happiness
- Have knowledge
Question #4: If you could choose to be rich or poor, which would you choose?
The answers were split 50/50.
Those who would rather be poor said that even if they had more they might not be satisfied. They feel like life is easier without many items and they thought ultimately they would be happier with less.
Those who would rather be rich said they wanted the freedom to move around as necessary, they wouldn’t need to worry about the future, they would have what they need for school fees. Money would offer them security.
Question #5: What does it take to be rich? How does one become rich?
- Time, effort, and hard work in the garden
- A good family background so good lessons could be passed on from generation to generation
- Exposure to the rich – the opportunity to work with or for a rich person
Question #6: How do most people feel about rich New Guineans?
Jealous. They don’t think they can do it (become rich) and they believe that person must know something that they do not know.
Editor’s note: In many third world countries, there is a type of thinking called “limited goods”. Money would be viewed like a pie. If you take too much money, (too big of a piece of pie) I won’t be able to get as much. Compare that to the North American mindset that money is unlimited; my ability to earn and produce income does not necessarily take away from your ability to earn a living.
Questions #7: What are the advantages of being the world’s poor?
- No fear of robbery
- Freedom of time
- No worrying about your property
- You can live at peace
- Don’t have to worry – you can rest good and you don’t have to think so much. The rich have so much on their minds.
Question #8: What are the disadvantages of being the world’s poor?
- Cannot travel – especially cannot see the other places in the world
- Cannot get a good education
- Lack of money for things like school fess and food
- City life is hard because you don’t get paid enough to manage the needs of your family
- Cannot meet needs – what to eat the next day and clothing
- Poor health services
Question #9: How much of their income do most people spend on food?
- All of it
Question #10: Earlier someone mentioned needs and luxury. What things would you say are luxuries?
There was that smart little smirk again. Everyone tried inconspicuously glancing around my house as if to say, “look around”.
- Clean water
- expensive cell phones
- Things in the house – toilet and running water
- Good house (defined as having an iron roof)
- Air conditioning in the office
- House full of food
- Kids’ education
Question #11: For a moment, think specifically about Milne Bay. What are the best things the rich could be doing with their money to help the world’s poor?
- Help with school fees
- Build a university
- Better school teaching and materials
- Training and courses for vocational skills
- Health services that includes training doctors
- Programs to address social issues like drinking. Rehabilitation. Sports programs. Counseling. The poor think negatively about themselves and look down on themselves.
- Sponsor a missionary
Question #12: How much should the rich give to the poor?
- What their hearts are willing to give
- Whatever they are satisfied to give. As they know their giving makes a difference, they might be satisfied to give more.
Question #13: If God blesses people who work hard, why are so many hard working people in PNG poor?
Because of the culture issue. When someone works, all other family members feed off them. The working class pays for everyone else and all income is drained by the poor.
Lots of family members live in the same house. People are expected to help family and so they cannot accumulate any savings.
With that question, I ended the interview.
The next day several people told me how much they loved the interview. They enjoyed exploring some of these topics and especially felt a sense of relief knowing that the dust was settled and it was all out in the open – I’m a rich person living in the midst of the poor.
Perhaps in the future I will share some of my responses and reflections, but for now I’m interested in knowing what you thought about these answers. What answer stood out to you or challenged you the most?