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What I envied about the Bolivians wasn’t poverty. It was simplicity. They didn’t choose it. It’s a necessary result of living in poverty, the silver lining on a dark cloud. That’s why people come back from Africa with that infectious gladness–not, of course, because of the terrible smell or the sickness or the injustice–it’s the simplicity. It’s a life uncluttered by television and power bills and traffic jams–a life enriched by the intense joy of interacting with other souls at a profoundly deep level, which is what we were meant for. What we miss when we come back from mission trips and church camps and spiritual retreats is life at its simplest.
American culture is one extreme (a land of plenty at the cost of simplicity) and the Third World is the other (poverty with the gift of simplicity). Each has its blessings and its curses. This point of this isn’t to get to the bottom of which of these extremes is better, but to propose a better way. A Christ-centered life of intimate fellowship unharried by either sickness and starvation or the chaos of a capitalistic rat race might be a good picture of the order of the day in the New Jerusalem. We don’t want to thrust electronics and trinkets and McDonald’s fries on Elba’s family any more than they’d want to thrust their dirt floors and malnutrition on us. What I wish for Elba is clean streets and sturdy houses, good food and warm clothes: hope. What I wish for us is walks in the woods, good friends, a tight community with a loving church at its heart: peace.