Getting off the airplane, it felt as though we had traveled back in time. Mozambique was said to be the third poorest country in the world at that time, and they had just survived 30 years of civil war. Kentucky seemed like a bright, shiny Disney Land compared to the devastated country we had just entered. Many people lived in mud huts and cooked outside on a fire. War had ravaged the countryside and further impoverished the people. There was the feeling of “You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.”
As we bumped over the asphalt roads, and then the sand roads on the way to our compound, we saw that some Mozambicans did live in apartments or houses of concrete, and others in houses of mud and sticks or grass. I had been told that an American missionary had built our house, so I was expecting, not anything fancy, but an average, finished house.
Upon arriving at the compound, I discovered that the house wasn’t finished to the level I was expecting. The floors were concrete, and I was told that I would need to wax the concrete floors before we could move in, or maybe I could hire someone to help me with that. There was no mention of tile or carpet or anything of that sort, just
“Wax the floors before you move in so you won’t be sweeping up cement dust every time you sweep.”
And this had to be done on hands and knees, and then the wax had to be buffed off, by hand. Finished, to me, meant floors and ceilings. There was no ceiling either. We looked up at rafters and the underbelly of the roof. A friend later commented,
“Your house is like living in a bath house, with the concrete floors, no ceiling, etc.” She was right.
Nothing brings you face to face with your own self-centeredness and presuppositions like moving to another culture. I had just arrived, and nothing was like I had expected it to be. This was hard—in so many ways— hard concrete floors, no furniture, no air-conditioning, and unreliable electricity. Yet many of the Mozambicans lived in mud huts. In the US, I never had to struggle with wealth inequality. I was nearly always surrounded by people of about the same socioeconomic status that I have, and I felt comfortable being kind of in the middle. I had enough, but not a lot more than those around me; and many of those around me had a lot more than we did, so I felt righteous enough, at least when it came to material possessions.
Then I moved to Mozambique, and the rug was pulled out from under me, landing me flat on my hard, soon-to-be-waxed concrete floor. What was I to do? Complain to God and my coworkers that this was not what I expected, when I could easily walk to a dozen or more mud huts in our neighborhood? Maybe I should have tried to buy one of those huts to live in, but then we would have starved if I had had to cook everything on a fire that I had built, since my fire-building skills are laughable or non-existent. Then too, we probably would have all died of cholera or malaria if we had not had a house with screens and running water that we purified with a water purifier. I could go on and on, but you get my point. Do we all need to plunge into poverty, or can we lift up the impoverished to a higher level instead? Does God have enough to go around?
I think God does have enough, but I also believe I should learn to be content with a simple lifestyle. God loves the homeless, the refugee, and the individual living in third world countries as much as He loves me. He hates greed. What does greed look like? Having a floor and a ceiling? What does it mean to be greedy in light of the suffering in the world? I wrestled with these questions as I waxed my floor, down on my hands and knees.