Christian Apologetic and preacher Ravi Zacharias puts it so eloquently (not!) when he says, “[The] World is … broken“. It is Sunday again in Samoa and this is how the QUOTE broken UNQUOTE world looks from within Paradise.
I‘ve always enjoyed listening to Ravi. He has a unique way of putting things – brutally direct but with a loving heart; highly logical but from a healthy basis of faith. His ministry could have been a role model for our work in Samoa, except that I ended up living and preaching in Samoa through other means. But he’s certainly another deep thinker and a certainly a man of faith.
In the comments mentioned in the above link, Ravi shares his awareness from decades travelling the world that there are major global issues such as “pain, fear, suffering, and poverty”. No need to “stop press” with this revelation. So let’s forget any impending world financial breakdown, or earthquakes, Tsunamis, the New World Order or philosophical arguments about evolution or the existence of proof of an Intelligent Designer found within a cell and look at the suffering and poverty aspects of Samoa.
That Samoa is a third world country is undeniable. The vast bulk of the people who live here are subsistence farmers and live in housing considered by the Western world “sub-standard”. Habitat for Humanity was right in their element here when they came after the Tsunami as their international goal is to eliminate poverty housing.
In rural Samoa, many do not have work, living in family or extended family units and basically just living from day to day. Any material wealth such as concrete block housing, cars or possessions are almost always brought in from off-shore. Many actually live on what they call here “remittances” – donations from family and friends offshore. Most do not have bank accounts and none appear to save or invest more than what can be garnered for a day or two, maybe a week or two. Even a small business here can be switched on or off at the whim of a landowner, chief, or someone in authority.
A guy who applied for work with us recently explained that he looked after the family house because all the rest of his family were overseas and they sent him money – to live off. He complained that his remittances were down recently because of the global downturn. I’m also told that he also attended funerals and events to get the obligatory food gifts but that’s another story. He’s also known to ‘down a few’ of the local brew, but again that’s another story. The point is that he’s poor. By anyone’s standards he’s poor.
We took a family trip to a lovely little village called Uafato a week or so ago and dined courtesy of a guy who has a resort on the beach. Originally encouraged to develop by a predecessor of mine in the in-bound tourism business, one Steve Brown, a Kiwi now in a cushy Government job at MNRE, this guy has had no business since the Tsunami. I’ll repeat that . . this guy has had no business since the Tsunami. In fact since Steve’s business (Green Turtle) went bust he’s had
bugger all little business as well according to those who should know.
The point is this (and I could go on with story after story after story) poverty is the norm over here. Wealth is the exception.
As I said before, this is Sunday in Samoa, so where is God in all of this?
We’ve got a world that’s broke. Only a few would argue this point. You’ve got a country marketed as “Paradise” that constantly claims that it is “founded upon God!” [Pic: In a prominent place “Founded Upon God!”] and those who counter this mantra are also few and far between. And yet you’ve got a country that has ceased exporting anything, certainly of value and whose population has for the most part no vision, little interest in working for anything other than an immediate return (think one day at a time!) and who neither understand nor care about concepts such as investment, return on investment, building a business and a whole bunch of very scary Christian concepts such as accountability, responsibility, integrity and suchlike.
A bunch of famous and clever people talk about one process whereby they see evil gaining ground. They are primarily Helenistic, or certainly Greek inspired, in their portrayal of “gods” as opposed to the loving benevolent nature of the Christian God, but they reveal an aspect of how they see evil enters mankind.
- “When falls on man the anger of the gods, first from his mind they banish understanding.” Lycurgus
- “When divine power plans evil for a man, it first injures his mind.” Sophocles
- “Those whom God wishes to destroy, he first deprives of their senses.” Euripides
- “Whom God wishes to destroy he first makes mad.” Seneca
- “For those whom God to ruin has design’d, He fits for fate, and first destroys their mind.” John Dryden
- “Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Thanks to Richard McCulloch for his collation of quotes here.
Christian theology differs from the above understanding a few degrees from the exact precepts quoted above however in that the Lord (a benevolent but just God) created the environment whereby His creation could choose good and evil, as opposed to “wanting” evil for any of His creation. The difference is subtle but important. The Lord allows evil to occur by simply removing His protection from those who choose to ignore, abandon or counter Him.
One of the strongest feelings I have in Samoa, and I’ve blogged about it since my first visits here, is what I call the poverty mentality. One of the first things we lose when we turn from ways of the Lord is our mind. We lose wisdom, discernment and convince ourselves to go off on futile missions, and to perceive wrongly that their is no hope, and that the world is broken and can’t be fixed.
The vast majority of Samoans that I meet may smile sweetly, and laugh freely and seem happy, but inside are negative, petty, argumentative and most sadly for me, without any real hope. They lack vision and a sense of purpose. They are poor not because they have nothing. They are poor in mind – I think – because of years of conditioning to do only what the Chief says, and have come to believe that there is no point in standing tall and achieving something great, or that there is any better way than their years of cultural indoctrination.
It’s not for me to tell people what to do or how to run their lives. They have the freedom to chose how to think – endowed on them by their Creator, but we do have a vision here and a purpose and we do work hard and smart and exercise faith in our endeavours. I’ve watched people around us receive God’s blessing through joining with us and having faith, but I’ve also seen many more slip away into the shadows and miss the blessing.
Ravi is right – the world is broken (and maybe broke too!). Samoa is no exception, but it’s not poor because it has nothing – it is poor because it has turned its back on the Creator. It has played games with the truth. It has a facade of Godliness (sure there are pockets of lovely godly people doing lovely godly things) but overall there is a big lesson in this all.
Robert Zend put it this way; “There are too many people, and too few human beings.” Touché
The world is broken, but there are pockets of hope. There are people like the High Chief of Malela, in Aleipata, Samoa, a guy called Vaelupe. I remember Vaelupe most because of the tears in his eyes and the long, firm, double clasped handshake that he gave me when we offered him a Samoa Village Stay in his newly recreated village. The history is that he and virtually his entire village lost everything in the September 2009 Tsunami. Less than a year later this subsistence farmer had received help from the Government, the Red Cross, who knows how many other aid agencies and they had rebuilt and were starting to getting over the shock, but had no connection with the outside world. Previously Palagi tourists would drive right through his village. In his new environment further inland there was no contact with the outside world – until someone visited and gave him just a little bit of hope.
In completing the documentation Vaelupe our team explained (in Samoan) the following clause:
13. A Commercial Business
In traditional Samoan culture it is an honour to host visitors, however hospitality can sometimes be costly for a host family, and they can be tempted to “go overboard”. Sometimes they may be fearful of social expectations, other times it may be just generosity and being grateful or honoured to have a guest. Samoa Village Stays is a commercial business that is expected to return a profit to the host family. Guests pay a fixed fee to Gold Tick Services Ltd. Gold Tick pays a fixed fee to the host family and the host family is expected to make a fair profit from every guest stay. Hosts agree not to overspend to honour their guests. Guests understand that Samoa Village Stays is a commercial operation with FIXED FEES and carefully measured services that are designed to return a fair profit to hosts.
For the record we charge $100.00 WST per person per night. My company owns the brand, does the marketing, bookings, provides the support services and our hosts receive $50.00 per person per night. Their cash costs would vary between $10.00 – $15.00 per person per night leaving them a profit of around $35.00 – $40.00 per person per night. This will be a very welcome income to people who are used to dealing in the order of $2.00 or maybe $10.00 at a time.
Vaelupe wanted to do Village Stays because it would be good for his family and his village and he wanted to love the Palagi guests. Even after several visits he stil didn’t realise that he should be making a profit. In Samoan culture (the real Samoan culture) life is not about making money; it is about giving, and blessing. Having a Palagi guest is an honour, and sacrifical giving (yes and to a certain degree based on fear of what other people might think if they don’t pull out all stops to honour the guest) is the norm.
Explaining that making a profit was not only “OK” but that is was expected was a revelation for a man knocking sixty years of age. “Thank you so much he said, again with the long, firm, double clasped handshake looking straight into my eyes. “You have taught me something today!”
It’s now time for tears in my eyes.
Fear of man . . . fear of culture, or what others think is simply not of God.
Fear does not rule the godly. We, (yes to my critics, I do claim to have an element of godliness in who I am and what I do), we should avail ourselves of the promise of Scripture to have a sound mind. A mind in tune with the Creator and with the good plans and purposes that He has in store for us all. This world might be broken and there may be a lot of greedy Samoans around me out to rob and steal and lie, but there are people here who can show genuine Christian love. Many of them are in the centre of a Tsunami stricken South Pacific Paradise. Some of them are this week participants in Samoa’s newest business: Samoa Village Stays.
It may be broken, but Samoa has a lot to give the world. I believe that the Lord has fingered this particular business to be a conduit to get what Samoa has out into the world. Genuine sacrificial love. The sort that can really touch Palagi focussed on material wealth and possessions and living in a culture of greed, self and worship of mammon. If I’m right, it will be worthwhile watching this space.
Here endeth another Sermon from Samoa.