I was leading the high life in one of the world’s coolest cities.
Serving a three-month internship as a copy-editor in Beijing, China, in the online arm of a national newspaper, I enjoyed a life of luxury. I had a fully-furnished apartment at the newspaper’s compound to myself (local employees had to share apartments), was given a monthly allowance of RMB 2000 a month (USD$300, which was the equivalent pay of a fresh Chinese graduate), plus the newspaper was delivered to my doorstep every morning.
If I was feeling a little lazy, I could get a cleaner to clean up my apartment for about RMB 50 (USD$8). I could shop as much as I wanted and dine at expensive restaurants as often as I liked, without having to watch my bank account.
Yes, life was good.
But I soon started finding the littlest of things to complain about. The trivial matters I moaned about ranged from the lack of good coffee to the exorbitant price of a hamburger, and the inconvenience of not being able to log on to Facebook or Gmail.
When I missed snacks and candies from New Zealand—where I live—I asked my sister to send me a care package filled with chocolate biscuits, a fashion magazine (“in English, please, my brains are exhausted trying to read Mandarin”), and a white cotton skirt, because Beijing’s sweltering summer heat was killing me.
Don’t get me wrong. I was very grateful to be given the opportunity to work in China. It was something I had my eyes on for a very long time, and I could hardly believe my ears when I was told I had been given a place at the newspaper. But my human nature got the better of me, and soon, I was complaining at the drop of a hat.
You see, I had forgotten to leave behind that baggage marked “First World Problems” when I headed to China. Having led a comfortable life back home where hunger and poverty are terms I hear of but rarely see, I took everything my host country had graciously offered me for granted.
All that changed one day, however, when I ran into one of the cleaners, a young mother with a primary school aged child, on my way back to my apartment after lunch. It was a particularly hot afternoon and I was hoping to sit in room with the air-conditioner turned up for a bit before going back to work.
She was rummaging through the rubbish heap with a foot-long pole under the noonday sun. The smell from the heap was unbearable. I had half a mind to walk past, but my curiosity got the better of me, so I asked her what she was doing on such a hot afternoon.
She told me that she was fishing for discarded plastic bottles and containers to sell, because she needed every extra dollar.
We soon struck up a conversation, in which I learned of her hopes and dreams. She wanted to get higher education, but had to let the opportunity go to her brother because her family could afford to send only one child to university. That also meant she had to leave her hometown to look for work in a bigger city.
I felt myself growing hot with shame as I stood in front of her with a tertiary education, an office job, and a comfortable apartment (“You’ve a very luxurious unit,” she told me)—and complaining about the heat.
I said I was happy for her to clean my apartment if she needed the extra income. I also extended an invitation to her to have lunch with me and my friends at a nearby restaurant. She declined the invitation.
One day however, she asked me if I could—before leaving China—drop off any of my unused and/or leftover body wash, shampoo, and body moisturiser, along with any food, to her. I was not sure if I had heard her right. Why would she want my leftovers?
But my ears were not playing tricks on me. She said body lotions and other toiletries (especially the American brands) were luxury items for her, so she was willing to pick up anything I did not want. At that instant, my First World Problems immediately disappeared, and I saw things in a different light. I eventually gave her a few unopened packets of chocolate biscuits and enough body lotion to last her a few months before returning to New Zealand.
Have you ever been in a similar situation? If you’ve been fortunate enough—like me—to be suffering from First World Problems, congratulations. This means you are in a position to bless and help those who are less fortunate.
You don’t even have to travel far to lend a hand to the marginalized; just look around you to see how you are able to meet a need. If you have a domestic worker in your home, perhaps you can bless her with a kind word of encouragement or surprise her with a lovely present on her birthday or Christmas. If you know of an old folks’ home or a local orphanage in need of a lick of paint or a clean backyard for residents and children to relax and play in, organize a get-together with your local church to give these places a good spruce up.
Doing good deeds is more than just getting a warm, fuzzy feeling in our tummies knowing that we have helped someone. Whenever we feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and visit the sick, we are doing it for Jesus (Matthew 25:35-40). God wants us to love and to help the marginalized and the less fortunate. We are commanded to “defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3).
The founder of Christian aid group World Vision, Robert Pierce, once said, “Let my heart be broken for the things that break the heart of God.” Today, will you ask God to show you the things that break His heart, step out, and meet that need?