Should I Eat the Steak?
Finding Contentment in a World of Poverty and Injustice
By a Pioneer who serves in South Asia
Several members of my extended family send group emails to each other to keep everyone up-to-date on daily life in their corner of the world. Whether it’s news from snowy Eastern Europe or from the cornfields of Indiana, I look forward to these emails to feel a part of each person’s life. A few months back, one of my uncles wrote telling us he was struggling with eating steak. Specifically, “How can I eat steak in my air-conditioned house, [knowing the physical poverty and spiritual darkness that abounds in this world]?”
He asked lots of other questions along the way, but the steak question really stuck out to me. Perhaps because it was illegal to buy and sell beef where I live due to local religious beliefs. Or perhaps because I had not eaten beef in months and was craving a hamburger. Whatever the reason, before I really had time to think about what he was asking, I shouted out loud, “EAT THE STEAK!”
Would You Eat the Steak?
The emails from family members that followed were full of sincerity and hilarity (as they usually are) and helped me think through the good gifts from our Father in light of the horrific suffering that plagues the majority world. Still, as I closed my computer that night, I remember haughtily thinking, “You’d better believe I would eat that steak with joy (and I’d Instagram it as well)!
When we landed back in America for a visit, I ate the steak.
I also looked around at the excess and the plenty and the efficiency and the clean. Then I closed my eyes and thought of my friends in South Asia—faithful followers of Jesus who didn’t eat yesterday because their circumstances were so dire or because there wasn’t enough. I thought of friends stepping through raw sewage on their way to 12 hours of hard labor that will afford them US$8 for their daily wage. With tears streaming down my face, I thought of the local justice system that effectively enslaves my best friend’s daughter because of its rampant corruption.
I whispered to myself, “I cannot eat the steak.”
In that moment, a profound sadness settled in my soul and felt as if it might never go away.
I’ve seen too much. And you have too. The heaviness that comes from having too much is burdensome in a different way, but perhaps just as crippling.
Steak and Abundance
After a few weeks of reverse culture shock and processing and debriefing, some dear friends came to visit us. I shared with them about my “eat the steak” struggle and this is the wisdom that flowed forth from my friend’s lips:
“Paul had to learn how to be content with plenty. It didn’t just come naturally.”
I thought back to the passage that she was referencing and she was right. It was there all along. I had always interpreted his words to mean that he had to learn how to be content with little…but if he had meant just that, then he would have said just that. Instead, he says this:
“I have learned to be content no matter what happens to me. I know what it’s like to not have what I need. I also know what it’s like to have more than I need. I have learned the secret of being content no matter what happens. I am content whether I am well fed or hungry. I am content whether I have more than enough or not enough. I can do all this by the power of Christ. He gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11b-13, NIRV).
Several other issues may come up with our decisions about what to eat, drink, wear or do… including how those decisions are seen by those around us and how they impact our relationships and ministry opportunities. But let’s take a minute to focus in on the abundance question and our response to poverty.
- Read Paul’s comments about contentment in Philippians 4. Do you tend to feel you and those around you have too much? Wish you had more? Maybe both?
- How does the relationship Paul has with God seem to shape his attitude about what he has?
- Ask God how to respond to the poverty and injustice so that you might rightly grieve over what is wrong without being paralyzed.
Our mission mentors would be glad to talk to you about helpful resources and next steps.
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