When we are blessed to have visitors come see us here in Uganda, I enjoy listening to their comments and observations about life here. There’s typically some laughter at how crazy people drive in Uganda, genuine concern for the often exposed wiring in home electrical systems, maybe a few complaints about our frequent consumption of posho and beans (the cheapest meal around), but nearly every visitor comments on how much more content Africans seem than Westerners. Now, I’d be incorrect to generalize all Africans as content. It’s the same as in any place, there are people who are content, and there are people who aren’t. I would definitely agree though with our visitor’s comments that as a whole, Africans are more content than people from the West. What an odd thing when you consider that many people here in Uganda are among the poorest of all people in the world.
Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 says this: “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil, this is the gift of God.” ESV
All the students who attend our schools eat maize porridge for breakfast and posho and beans for lunch every single school day. We can’t afford to offer any variety, we’re just happy to be able to feed everyone. Most children here wear the same clothes every single day. Their parents can’t afford for them to have alternatives. Still, I don’t usually here children complaining about clothes or food when they meet me on the school grounds. They just beg me to join in whatever the day’s game is and we run and laugh and the children’s exuberance and enjoyment of life spills all over you. And it’s not just when it’s game time. I usually have about a dozen or so glued to my hip when I visit the school. A few weeks ago I went to pick rock out of our soccer field and about ten 5-9 year olds came along with me. I gave them instructions in English before the work began (which of course they didn’t understand) but thankfully it wasn’t hard for them to pick up on what I was doing in the field. I was impressed at the length of time those little kids lasted digging rocks out of the dirt with their bare hands and tossing them off the pitch. And the hard work didn’t put any damper in their zeal for life. We smiled and laughed every bit as much as if we had been using the soccer field to actually play soccer on. I’ve had people back home who own a 4,000 sq ft house and 3 vehicles tell me that they are poor. I’ve seen young children in the states who receive new toys every birthday and Christmas and yet they never seem satisfied. Why is that? How can a person be so wealthy and so unhappy? Well, what does Ecclesiastes 5 say? There is nothing better for us than to have joy in our work and accept our lot for this is the gift of God.
Are you happy with your life? Do you have joy and pleasure each day? If you don’t, why don’t you? If it’s a broken relationship, have you done your best to fix it? If you need to be forgiven, have you sought forgiveness? If you’ve been hurt, have you reached out to forgive? If it’s because you haven’t received the promotion you want or been able to buy the things you want, you’re operating under the incorrect assumption that wealth makes a person happy. When actually, the bible says that satisfaction with your circumstances is the only way to be happy. In Philippians the apostle Paul testifies that he had learned the key to contentment. He could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. Paul made this statement after being in ministry for years where he was stoned, whipped, beaten, mocked, imprisoned, etc. And even after all that Paul said here’s the key to happiness, here’s the key to satisfaction, I am content with the one who controls my circumstances. If Jesus has given me little, that’s all I need. If Jesus has given me much, it’s still by his grace that I am sustained.
Now, I also have older students who are more educated and have seen the disparity between the world they live in and other places. And now many of them are unsatisfied with the situation that they’ve grown up in. They want to have all the things they see other people possessing. So, I tell them all the same thing. Accept the place that God has put you. Enjoy the things that God has given to you. Don’t make things you don’t have your goals, but rather, relish what you do have. Joy is a gift from God. You can have everything and still not be satisfied. Or you can have nothing, and choose to enjoy whatever it is that you do have.