Often times in the west, we have been inundated with images of what has been labeled as “poverty” in Africa. You know what I mean. You know those commercials with the images of children with torn clothes, dirty faces and flies in their eyes… and these really sad expressions on their faces that make our heart break. Then they add the sad and depressing music in the background and we just want to run to our computer and make a donation. We are told in those commercials that we can “save” these children from what has been labeled as a “horrible” life.
Nobody wants to be told that their way of living is horrible. I’ve been serving in Uganda for almost 8 years now. I have seen those kids that you see in the commercials running in the village with the torn clothes and the dirty faces and guess what? Most of them are actually happy.
Have you ever walked into a room or a meeting and someone asks you, “Are you ok? You don’t look very good today. Is everything ok?” You find yourself completely confused by their questions. You woke up fine, took time to get ready and came to work. You feel perfectly fine! But somehow this person in front of you thinks you are not ok. You tell them, “No, I’m fine." Then they give you another look (you know the one with the eyes) and say, “Are you sure? You just don’t look so good… what’s wrong? You can tell me.” At this point you are completely lost. You honestly feel perfectly fine and cannot comprehend how this person continues to judge you without even knowing what is going on in your life or that morning. No one wants to be judged wrongly.
Sometimes, the images and ways that Africa is portrayed in the media is not accurate. Many of the children I find here in the villages with the ripped clothes and dirty faces are actually happy. Wait…. Happy? How can they be happy? Their clothes are torn, they don’t have running water in their grass thatched hut, they LIVE in a grass thatched hut, their face is dirty - how can they be happy you ask?
Let me ask you, what makes YOU happy? What are the things in your life that you would consider to make your life happy? Is it having access to television 24hrs/day? Is it going on social media anytime you like? Your phone? A sink, toilet and running water in your house? Electricity in your home? A fridge to keep your drinks cold? How about a closet full of clothes? Or maybe your happiness comes from shoes?
What if I told you that all of those things listed above may make YOU happy but they may not make someone else happy. Your happiness cannot be measured. The happiness of those living in the villages in Africa cannot be measured either. Here’s the thing, when I’m in the village and I see children running around with torn clothes and dirty faces they still laugh. Don’t you remember when you were a kid running around and getting dirty from playing outside with your friends? They are not actually crying or asking me to buy them a new shirt. I can tickle them and they squeal with delight. I can kick a soccer ball with them and they run with joy and excitement because someone is playing soccer with them. Their happiness doesn’t equal 24hr television access, social media and internet, a cell phone or even a sink with running water in the house.
Don’t get me wrong, all of those things can be seen as good things and help people for various reasons but it may not equal happiness. There are some children on those commercials that are really in need and I do not want to discourage you from giving and supporting the important work of many non-profits. I just don’t want you to judge or try to measure the happiness of someone across the world that you have never met or don’t know their full story. I wouldn’t want to be judged in that way… would you?
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33. If our focus is on the things of this world we will never find true happiness. Its not in my house, the car I drive, the clothes I wear, how many followers I have on Instagram or in the shoes I wear. The beauty of so many that I have met in the villages here in Uganda is that their focus is not on the things of this world. Their happiness comes through relationships, community and knowing God. They don’t rely on social media, or television or conveniences of the world to provide them happiness. They want good things in their lives (just like me and you) but its not the source of their happiness.
So, take a few minutes and ask yourself what really makes you happy? What if those things were gone today? Do those things really matter? True happiness will not come from the things of this world… it comes from Him.