“You guys have it so easy, you just sit in your houses and eat. We have to work hard in our gardens and walk a long way.”Kovol lady to Gerdine
That comment above came at the end of a week where we were already feeling guilty for the standard of living we have compared to the Kovol people we live among. Needless to say, it wasn’t very encouraging! Thinking about it though it was probably meant as a compliment, not a criticism!
Nonetheless, we’re struggling with the economic disparity between us and our neighbours. We struggled with it arriving in PNG 4 years ago, and the struggle is fresh after moving into the bush.
It’s a double-edged sword.
By the standards of what we’re used to at home we’re living very simply, but by Kovol standards, we’re unimaginably rich.
We open the freezer to get some food and we feel guilty – we’re the only ones here with a freezer. We run the tap to wash Oscar and we feel guilty – we’re the only ones with running water.
At the same time, we can’t imagine going much simpler and being able to function productively. The Kovol lady was right- we do have it easier than they do, but that was an intentional decision. We could have moved in and lived exactly as they do – but 3/4 of our time would be taken up with surviving.
We’d also be in very real danger of falling off the other side of the ditch. Would raising Oscar without an education (as there’s no school around here) and without a bit of Western culture (which he’ll be going back and settling into when he’s grown up) really be the way to go?
As we continued to think on it we recognised it’s not that we’re not working hard – it’s just that we’re able to direct our work at things other than putting food on the table. We’re able to direct our energies into the God-glorifying task of bringing the gospel to an unreached group.
A related problem is that there are hundreds of Kovol people and only 3 of us missionary families. If we spend a day socialising to exhaustion and showing care and love as best we can only a small-group of Kovol people experience it. We wake up exhausted the next day and guess what? There’s a brand new group of people who’ve hiked over to see us.
And we feel guilty that we’re too tired to give them our attention.
The last 4 days have been work on getting the bamboo siding onto the Hansen’s house. I put in two days of spending time with people wacking bamboo flat and weaving it onto the house. It was great fun and great language exposure. Day 3 though was when we were feeling that it’s been non-stop and we just need a quiet day inside.
Then we feel guilty people are working on our behalf whilst we’re taking a much-needed break. We also feel so constrained as every time we step out of the house there are dozens and dozens of eyes on us watching everything we do.
The Kovol people sleep in their houses and relax outside. Privacy isn’t really a thing, and so what do they think we’re doing when we’re spending the day inside? Well, sleeping.
It’s a challenging position to be in. We have to keep reminding ourselves of why we’re here. We’re here to bring eternal riches and deep soul satisfaction in this life through Christ.
We’re unable to change the global inequality that produced this disparity in the first place. The guilt we’re feeling is that now we’re simply face to face with the fact that because of the countries we were born in there are have and have nots – the Kovol people would be in the same position if we weren’t there to see it up close.
We can, however, tell them about the God who deserves (and demands) their attention and offers them the satisfaction of their soul’s desires.
Getting the big picture helps us to press on – get the bamboo up, finish the houses quickly and get started with full-time language learning as quickly as possible