On occasion I’d like to share a little of the economical picture here in South Africa. Economics touches our lives directly in so many ways. Missionaries often need to stretch themselves to consider ideas they didn’t think came with the job. Questions of colonialism, capitalism, the reasons for poverty, and ways to escape poverty are often viewed through our biblical lens (or not thought about!), but nationals see things differently.
South Africa is a strike-crazy country. Since we arrived, we have witnessed several different strikes, from workers at a grocery store, to municipal workers spreading trash all over the nearest town instead of collecting it, to teachers’ and miners’ strikes. Last year strikes by miners became so incendiary that more than 30 miners were killed in the riots.
On one occasion at the nearest government university, students “striked,” or rather rioted, to raise their bursaries (scholarships) above 70% of their university costs. They weren’t getting enough financial help from their scholarships, apparently. The school offered scholarships to 90%, but the student leadership said that still wasn’t enough. Students defaced buildings, vandalized rooms, and even burned a building. Eventually they got what they were asking.
This past week, impersonal strikes became personal when the municipal workers of South Africa went on strike. The workers for the water system in our region, rather than simply quitting work, turned off the lines that supplied water for an entire large region. Several villages–hundreds of thousands of people became dependent on whatever private wells were in the area to supply their water.
Two and a half years ago, we purchased a tank to hold about 2,000 liters of water; but we were still dependent on the government supply lines to fill the tank with water. We did not hear the cause of the lack of water until halfway through the week and had not been conserving water the way we would have had we known. We immediately stopped any washing of laundry and began our old measures of conserving water.
Thankfully, our teammates 8 kilometers away have a private well, and they allowed us to wash some laundry there and tote jugs and containers of water back home. Also thankfully, the water came back on last night (Sunday)! The story goes that “a gang of boys” went around and turned on all the supply lines, but the strike is not yet over. So the water may yet be turned off again.
Meanwhile, while the water was on, I washed seven loads of laundry! Even though it was rainy, I washed clothes as quickly as the machine would run, and crossed the bridge of where to hang them to dry afterwards.
It was a stressful situation and is still worrisome. All week I would think of how to conserve water, when I could find a block of time to run over to my teammate’s house to wash clothes, which clothes should be washed first if I were limited, and which could wait. My toilet-training daughter would have an accident, and my patience would snap much more quickly than it would have had we had easy water access to clean with. My highchair-eating toddler threw his plate of food on the floor, and my temper went through the roof. The biggest source of stress was that no one knows how long the strike will last or when the water will be off or on.
It was a good exercise for me in trust in God’s sovereignty, patience during temptation, and cheerfulness while strained. It was also a good exercise yet again in thinking through the moral connections of economics.
The strikers “struck out” in the following three ways:
1. The workers displayed a spirit of entitlement in striking in the first place. Don’t they realize that they and everyone else will soon be paying for it as well, as prices go up all over the place to compensate for their raised wages? Do they not see that if wages go up for them, the unemployment rate will not decrease? Who can hire more workers if each worker is paid more?
A spirit of entitlement is all over–not just here in strike-crazy Africa. It’s also in America and the lack of personal responsibility; it’s in Greece and all the other countries which, while sinking in debt, cannot raise the age of retirement benefits to 65 instead of 62 or whatever the ages in debate are. A Christian worldview encourages hard work and personal responsibility.
2. Further, the municipal strikers displayed selfishness in going beyond a simple strike to deprivation of life’s most basic necessity for thousands of people. Rather than handling their fight themselves, they’re hoping to cause a riot or riots from the common people so that their benefits or wages increase. A Christian worldview encourages compassion towards others and placing others before self.
3. Finally, this strike and the numerous other strikes in Africa display a common impatience and get-rich-quick spirit. Rather than accumulating wealth the way most other wealthy people did–through generations of hard work, good management, and frugality; they want it now.
That’s why the prosperity gospel is the most popular religion over here. I want it now! I deserve it now! Why should you have something I can’t have? (Doesn’t it sound rather like toddlers only with much bigger stakes?) Jesus give you that? I’ll take Him then! A Christian worldview encourages putting our treasure in heaven, not on earth. It discourages the love of money, and at the same time encourages the work ethic that produces wealth.
Once again, Seth and I have had a vivid illustration of how much Christianity could change the world. The problem is sin. The solution is the Living Water.