Showalter: Disciples rich and poor
“Can you find me a sponsor?” As I travel in the global church, few questions are harder for me to answer than this — or others like it. I’m happier to tackle the theological or organizational questions I get. “How do you understand the Trinity?” is tough, to be sure. “Why are there so many denominations?” is not easy. But they’re not so personal, immediate and heart-wringing. They have answers we can address together from east and west, north and south.
This one, on the other hand, gets at the nub of the economic difference between wealthy and poor nations. It comes directly to me as a citizen of the U.S. — and, more than that, as a disciple of Jesus.
I cannot easily invite the inquirer to join me in answering it. The answer belongs to me, and often I’m stopped in my tracks. Inquirers are intelligent, committed and eager to further education either at home or abroad. But often they have no options other than to seek some form of sponsorship.
Of course, there are many stock answers I can give. “I don’t know any sponsors who are able to help you,” I might reply. Yet the words freeze on my lips. In fact, I know hundreds of people who could, with some sacrifice, become a sponsor.
Or I might say, “You can write to [these schools] for a scholarship. A few of them even give full-tuition scholarships to a few of the brightest and best.” But I know that for many inquirers this will be a dead-end street. They’ll never get those scholarships. American schools are looking for paying international students, and schools in their countries don’t give scholarships.
Or, “The best choice is to get an education in your own country.” Yet a few moments later the truth sinks in. They can’t afford an education in their country, either.
Of course, the question doesn’t take only the form of educational scholarships.
“Do you know of anyone who could help us build our meetinghouse? We’re doing all we can, but is there anyone in your country who might partner with us?”
Or, “Can you join us in mission? We know it costs tens of thousands of dollars to send a missionary from your country. A tiny fraction of that would do the same in our country. We’re doing all we can, but since we’re one global family, we’d love to have you join us.”
Anabaptist missiologist Jonathan Bonk once referred to these questions, and others like them, as belonging to the “righteous rich.” How do we live righteously in a greedy, twisted world in which some are born into great wealth, and others into poverty?
The humanist might end the day with discussions and actions about the physical survival of the planet and its peoples, the sovereignty of nations or the solidarity of humanity. But disciples of Jesus cannot stop there.
For us, it is imperative to go beyond human survival, institutional and political justice, development projects, philanthropy and other forms of international good will into the very nature of global Christian community.
We cannot rest content with the accidents of birth. Repeatedly, we come face to face with the fact that we are brothers and sisters in Christ with others around the globe who do not share our wealth yet walk with us as members of the family of God.
That family, that “nation,” is primary. Here and now God calls us to steps of obedient faith.
What are our answers?
Richard Showalter lives in Irwin, Ohio, and travels in Asia, Africa, the U.S. and beyond as a teacher, preacher, writer and servant.
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