A lesson from Niger.
During my recent mission trip to Niger, Africa, I noticed a startling difference from the United States. Traffic lights! After spending a week in the city of Niamey, I only saw 5 traffic lights and 4 of those weren’t even on. But, even without traffic lights, thousands of people took to the streets each day.
Cars, trucks, vans crowded with people, camels hauling goods, mules pulling carts, motorcycles darting through traffic, and countless people walking, all moving to a rhythm. The city was alive and chaotic. At first glance, it seemed like everyone was rushing to important business or appointments. But, a closer look revealed something more significant; all of this activity is directed at one goal…gathering daily bread.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
Matthew 6:11 NKJV
People around every corner were searching for their next meal. In the mornings, we saw people hurrying to get their first meal. After this, we saw people of all ages laboring or selling goods to make money to buy their next meal. Getting daily bread is well established in the culture of Niger. One of my friends asked a farmer why he didn’t plant more in his field and sell the crops. The farmer said he had enough for his family to survive.
The American capitalist entrepreneur in me wanted to say “seize the opportunity and work to get ahead to be happy”! But what I came to realize is that most of the people of Niger whom we encountered were already happy. They were living in their context, not our get more, do more, need more context. It’s easy to go to Niger and think the people would be happier if they had the luxuries we posses. But, even without running water, electricity, central air, Walmart or Target, fast food, and iPads; we still saw smiles on faces. Why? Because the people of Niger are thankful for the daily provisions they receive from God.
This is a valuable lesson for us. Many people in our western culture have an abundance of things, but a deficit in joy. We have nice cars, beautiful homes, electronics and appliances to make life easier, and the wealth to travel the world, but suffer from high levels of depression. Many of us are discontent with what we have because we always want more. I’m not saying we should look at the people of Niger and be thankful because we are blessed with more than them. I’m not saying we can’t complain because we’ve been blessed with so much more than they have. Instead, I’m proposing we should look at their attitude of thanksgiving and joy (regardless of what they have) and learn to be thankful as well.
I think we would all have a higher quality of emotional and spiritual life if we learn to be thankful for daily bread first. It doesn’t matter if we have an abundance or if we’re living paycheck to paycheck, we can still open our hearts to God in thanksgiving and have joy. Before we ask God for anything else, we should thank him for what he has already provided. It doesn’t matter if we have a little or a lot, all that we have comes from God.