“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” Isaiah 55:2
Have you ever wanted to have an out-of-culture experience, dropping into a completely different life for a time? Since college, a thirst to explore a different culture has been a motivating force in my life. Along with my faith-driven desire to see social justice issues resolved in this world, it has led me to be an ardent supporter of Lutheran World Relief for decades and even get the opportunity to visit several rural villages in East Africa where LWR was actively engaged.
The group of Americans I traveled with observed some ongoing projects financed by LWR that reminded me of this reading from Isaiah. Women who were members of village savings groups, under the guidance and financial support of LWR, worked closely together, using available resources and supporting one another through micro-loans to achieve a better life among them all.
A sense of community among the villagers was strong. Figuring out what their local resources were and how to use them to attain economic stability was fascinating to observe. In one village we visited on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda, some women used savings group funds to buy fishing boats and hired local men to do the fishing. One enterprising woman established a store with fishing equipment for sale. Another woman bought a foot pedal–powered sewing machine and made clothing to sell. In this village, I saw resourcefulness, creativity, accountability (to the savings group) and, yes, pride that they could lift up their families out of debilitating poverty.
Hope for a more secure future for their children was palpable. The driving force wasn’t the financial return, but rather what a more stable economic footing would provide for the entire family and, thereby, for the whole village. With the encouragement LWR provided, hope for the future permeated the community.
Considering this reading from Isaiah, how can we connect my African journey observations? The challenge for us Americans is to see beyond the glitter of gold. Instead of chasing the dollar for our own personal gain, what if we were to focus on how we might use our God-given gifts to build stronger communities? Perhaps we might find that if we trust God to guide us, our priorities could shift from building up our own transient treasures to strengthening lifelong, satisfying relationships within our own villages—“the best food of all.”