Sunday, February 10, 2008
The 107th good thing about Lagos: Church thoughts remind me to feel grateful as I consider how to love my neighbor here
One of our speakers in our church service today spoke on the subject of loving our neighbor. As part of his talk, he quoted the verse detailing the commandment not to covet in Exodus 20:17: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's." He talked about this being an issue here where many Nigerians live in very close quarters with their neighbors and they are able to see other's belongings and, he said, "we may forget sometimes that it is through their toil that they were able to have those things" and he went on to state that if we individually work hard we can receive what we need and we shouldn't covet what our neighbor has. This comment left me feeling more than a twinge of guilt as I reflect on how much I possess and how my life is so much easier than the lives of most of the Nigerians here. This past week I've had a couple of my piano students from church come to my house for piano lessons. I invited them because I have had more children at church want to learn the piano and there isn't time after church for individual teaching, and also because often the power is off and the keyboard doesn't work, or there is a meeting in the chapel where the keyboard is located, so we are unable to have much of a piano lesson after church. Anyway, Brent has visited the home of one of my piano students, whose family lives in the servants quarters of the housing compound of one of the large oil companies here. Of course, it's better housing than many Nigerians, who live just off the street in ramshackle shacks made of scraps of wood and corrugated tin. This is an actual constructed building, but the family with 2 parents and 4 big children, live in a single room with one bed and 2 chairs that is about the size of one of our bedrooms. Brent assumed that the children have some kind of mat that they spread on the floor for sleep. There is likely a communal kitchen and bathroom down the hall, as is typical in these "boys quarters" buildings, though Brent didn't see those rooms. I feel a little uneasy as these students come into my very comfortable apartment with 3 bedrooms and 3 1/2 baths and 2 living areas for the two of us. I am acutely aware that I have this standard of living not because of my "toil" but because my husband and I were born into families in the United States where we had opportunities for education and good employment. I know that many of these Nigerians will work hard their entire lives and still not be able to live as comfortably as we do. One of my biggest dilemmas here continues to be how to love and support my Nigerian "neighbors," while not promoting the corruptive culture of begging. But as I continue to struggle daily with the issue of how best to demonstrate charity and not get hardened to the needs of others as I am faced with everpresent beggars, I must always remember that most of the material blessings I have came as gifts to me, blessings in the form of opportunities by virtue of where and when I was born. I must always remember that those blessings don't make me a better person than these Nigerians without those same opportunities, just a person with more responsibility to give and share.