'Why don't the newscasters cry when they read about people who die,' sings Jack Johnson? I don't think anyone wants to be confronted with all that is wrong with this corrupt world in one go, when we've already come to the conclusion that we can't do anything much to help, it's simply too much.
I saw in one of our country's major newspapers the other day, that a giant storm 20 times bigger than anything we see on earth was sweeping over the surface of Saturn, in fact they think it's been a storm system there for years! Sure this fact is interesting, maybe one I can pull out on a rainy day to impress someone, but these are the stories that gain the clicks and the likes today.
Why, in the name of science, does the world spend billions and billions of dollars to research and film these storms and other space exploration ventures? Sure is exciting, it's gaining knowledge and creating fluffy pieces of content most TV channels are happy to air with fancy graphics, but unless you're a science fiction writer, how else would you rather spend 16 billion dollars? (That was NASA's budget for 2012).
In April this year, I was privileged enough to spend two weeks in Cambodia. I was doing some filming for some short documentary programmes I was making for the company I work for. It was an incredible trip where I met some inspiring people and I got some insight into the cultural differences that are worlds apart from New Zealand.
I've seen poverty in different forms before, here at home, and I had a glimpse of it in Thailand on a short term mission trip, but until now I'd never seen the depth of poverty truly gripping an entire nation. That may sound like a grim assessment, as there are plenty of people living happily in Cambodia, but compared to the western freedoms we take for granted every day, Cambodia is sadly lacking.
This isn't a 'fair-trade', 'think of the children' lecture to try rattle your cage and to think outside the box. You only have to read of the falling factories in these third world countries like the shoe factory that fell a few weeks ago in Phnom Penh (Cambodia's Capital) that killed two and injured seven, or the Bangladesh garment factory tragedy that killed 1127 people, to understand that there are unfair working conditions still rampant around the world.
The One Percent
For me, the most memorable and thought provoking thing I discovered on my trip was how resilient Cambodian people are. Many have so little, they're so oppressed, yet they display such solidarity and 'communitas.'
Imagine if our prime minister had been running our country for 34 years, and still maintained it was a democracy. Imagine if our government sold off every single natural asset of worth to foreign investors in exchange for roads and bridges because the systems in his country were too corrupt and powerless to build anything of worth. Western media would have a field day, but in Cambodia these things have been going on behind the scenes for decades and the effect is a nation politically and economically trying to claw its way out of the Stone Age.
We worry about the one percent in the west owning and controlling all the wealth and power, and rightly so, but it's nothing compared to the inequality seen in Cambodia. People don't trust banks, large companies or anyone official in power, because democracy doesn't exist, and bribery is common place. It may take 10-15 years for an average Cambodian to finance a house which may only cost $2,500 US dollars, while there are a good number of new Range Rovers and Jeeps driving around the busy roads that are worth more than 20 new houses.
Rolling with the Punches
As part of my trip I was hosted by a rural village of people south of Phnom Penh, where their main source of income is from growing rice, and the Christian school/orphanage where we stayed is funded by teams of foreigners linked with YWAM who visit regularly. The people were unbelievably hospitable! We even got invited to a wedding that was happening in the local community. The two guys I was travelling with and I were honoured guests of someone we'd never met.
In Cambodia, weddings are big family festivities, and for some reason they like to wear about nine different outfits during the three days of celebration. It was truly a community event, with everybody doing their part to make the party happen, from the local kids filling up our glasses with ice, to neighbours pitching in with the decorating, catering and music.
Another striking difference was the driving habits of Cambodians. There are about 10 motorbikes to every car on the road, and much like most of South East Asia, they drive wherever there's room, there's no such thing as "my lane." People pull out in front of you, not once, but all the time, from every direction, and you just have to roll with the punches. In the big city of Phnom Penh, it seems like everyone is out on the roads all at once going to who knows where as quick as they can. In comparison, us westerners are probably far safer, but have a pushy and somewhat demanding entitlement theory to our driving; our roads are far more sterile and far less interesting.
I noticed so many differences, some good, some bad, and the injustices I witnessed and discovered were inconceivable. Coming home I felt like a fat cat returning to his life of luxury. It's a common occurrence for most people who experience poverty, and the over indulgence and gluttony of home always seems a little sick.
Gluttony usually refers to food, but the food metaphor points to something bigger; it's our soul's addiction to excess, when want outweighs need and when taste overrules hunger. We want to upsize, add-on, re-do and maximize our discounts and collect our bonus points from our favourite shops.
This lust for more stems as far back as Adam and Eve, our very first ancestors wanted to taste what was forbidden, to take a bite of the fruit that wasn't there's for the taking. They had everything they needed in what was 'some kind of perfect world' without sin, and yet even back then the selfish, lustful desire for more got the better of the people who were able take a stroll in the garden of Eden under a setting sun with the Almighty.
Our ambition for success is not always wrong, but it so often leads us astray into unbalance, unfairly forgetting to help those in need. Not that money can fix deep rooted greed in many of the third world countries around the world, but it seems that greed is the biggest reason that most western governments don't try to do more to stop corruption that oppresses billions of hungry people.
In saying all this about greed and gluttony, I don't think it's God's intention and ultimate plan to see the world in unity with equal pay and opportunities. Of course God doesn't like seeing people suffer, but I think he has a bigger goal than equality. When I think of the poor in Cambodia, I'm reminded of the verse, 'blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.'
The verse doesn't say depressed are the poor, or trapped, cast out or forgotten. It says blessed! The poor don't have a chance to be gluttons, they don't lack any reminders of their humanity, they're not as much at risk of selfish vanities, they simply lack the control we hunger for. Their lack of choice and control is a blessing in disguise as they find it far easier to trust and have faith in something bigger, in someone who is in perfect control.
That 16 Billion
So if I was to say how I would spend 16 Billion dollars, I would probably be somewhat selfish and invest a good portion of it so I wouldn't have to work a day in my life, and to separate myself as much as I could from poverty.
Just kidding... seriously though, I would like to be able to bank roll a giant 'Robin Hood' kind of corporation that earns money off the rich and spends the profits conquering an area of poverty in the third world through on the ground initiatives, but those already exist, and some do it really well.
I think a more profitable long term and wider reaching way to combat poverty is to somehow (I don't know how money could buy this) get people who live comfortably in the west to simply see what it's like to live without control, to see what it's like to live with no money in the bank, no food on the table at times and to need community to survive.
I think the result would be people who are more grateful with the portion we have with less gluttonous over eating, over spending and sense of entitlement. We'd see more mother Theresa types, more people gripped with compassion, because in seeing it as I have, I'd hope people would find it impossible not to change.
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Broadcasting Group in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html