“Norita, I want to bring Jeren and her two sons to the basketball game on Saturday,” skipping the small pleasantries of conversation, Nina got right to the point. “But we’ve got a problem. Both boys have muscular dystrophy and have significantly deteriorated this past year. You remember Jeren and her boys, Ahmet and Mehmet, right?”
I wracked my brain to place them. Kardelen’s “Family” has grown so much these past three years that I now have a hard time remembering each and every one of these precious ones.
“Remember, they were evicted from the hovel they were living in, and I helped them find another place to rent? Her husband left her and their two sons and ran off with someone else? They are big guys. You talked to Jeren at the zoo outing last year?”
Jeren’s face came into my mind’s eye and I nodded.
“They have gotten so big and so helpless that all Jeren can do is take care of their food and bathing. They now wear adult pampers. They never go out cuz she can’t get them into their manual chairs, and they can’t push themselves anymore anyway.
“What they really need are motorized chairs now; or at least one motorized chair. She could push Ahmet and Mehmet could work the toggles of the other one and they could get out of their tiny apartment at least—maybe to a park or to the store.
“Couldn’t you get someone to donate a chair to them? I could arrange for all of them to come to the game then,” she pleaded.
I told her that I didn’t think we could buy that chair any time soon, but that I would certainly love to go visit them with her the next time she went there.
“Jeren told me that the local political party has made contact with her and promised to buy her a motorized chair on the condition that she cover her head with traditional Islamic garb and become a member of their women’s Koranic Study group. She told me that she just couldn’t do it; that she’d lose all self-respect if she capitulated to their demands.” Nina began to explain to me the current policies of the ruling party in relation to the disabled.
“Isn’t she a Muslim?” I asked. “What’s the problem for her to wear the ‘uniform’? Several of the moms are covered. Isn’t our worker in H____ also covered?”
“Yes,” Nina nodded. “She’s Muslim, but not THAT kind of Muslim. It’s just a fact these particular people go running around acting so religious, but they are often really just arrogant know-it-alls who have no heart or humility. They have vigorously pursued people with physical handicaps for votes. People like me, you know, are a big constituency here. So many of my friends have been given cars, homes, government jobs. All they had to do was sign up to the Party, cover their heads, get their families to sign up and BAM they’re in jobs and places of power you only dream of here when you’ve been rejected all your life.
“Last month I was out with a bunch of my wheelchair-bound friends at a park. One of the other women there began mocking me because she said that I had become a Christian and now owned no home, nor car—how ironic, when you think that ten years ago when I did have a flat of my own, I was ridiculed with words to the effect that I had become a Christian in order to get the Big Goods. Anyway, she goes on to say I’m in sin and should repent and come back to Islam and I’ll be able to get a house and car like her.” She was shaking her head in chagrin.
I reminded her of the anti-Christian propaganda which had made headlines ten years ago claiming that missionaries were bribing people to come to church and change their religion by placing $100 bills in copies of the New Testament. That rumor still is alive; just last week, I watched a man who had brought his child to Streams of Mercy for a wheelchair assessment snooping around in the book cupboard where copies of the Injil we study as a team are stored. After leafing through the books, he had shrugged his shoulder and tried to force open the other cupboards where we lock our crafts materials.
“What hypocrites these people are,” Nina sighed. “As far as they are concerned we are going to be kept from blessing because we changed our religion on our identity card, but then if we do get something materially good, we have obviously sold our souls to the missionaries. Crazy.”
Upon reflection I have come to the conclusion that “Rice religiosity” is to be found everywhere, even in the so-called secular world. This world-view whether found in the USA, China or Turkey, church, temple, mosque, or workplace, is essentially materialistic. If you’ve got stuff then surely God is on your side. Actually, God is in your pocket. You are considered blessed (for the post-Christian world read successful or famous) and worthy to be “followed”. Our societies, whether free market, socialist, or oligarchic promote “faith” where personal gain is the highest good. The outcome is great spiritual poverty. Sacrifice of time (let alone money), integrity, humility, and real life-giving inter-dependence– all results of the position of “kneeling” before the Creator—are difficult to find.
In the nineteenth century western missionaries went to India. People there joined the church and were rewarded by having food and clothing and sometimes an education given them. Today we denigrate them by calling them “Rice Christians.” They came for the food and stuff, made a public profession of orthodox faith and before you knew it the church representing the Empire was filled with brown faces.
Western Christians today who work in lands where there is obvious poverty have to come to terms with their own materialism and world views in order NOT to sidetrack what God is doing by throwing material goods in the way of the Spirit. Recently several critiques have been written which call to task culture-destroying charity. “When Helping Hurts,” is just one of these. I read another article last week on someone’s blog about how short-term mission teams from the USA looking for activities to introduce their young people to which is good have been unfortunately involved in perpetrating a culture of fraud among some of the peoples they’ve gone to help. Singing choirs fill church buildings used only when the tourist teams come in order to make sure a steady flow of funds doesn’t stop.
“Rice Christianity” is not dead, by any means.
When we were working five days a week in the orphanage here among the severely mentally and physically disabled, we were accused of proselytizing by the anti-Christian propagandists. Given what they understand about “Faith” and “material well being” it made absolutely no sense to the secularist/nominal Muslims that we would go in day after day, bring clothing, wheelchairs, medicines, toys, unless our ultimate motive was some sort of material gain. We must have been trying to encourage these children to change their religion. It must be that we are paid back I the States for every person we baptize. Isn’t that the job of a missionary, after all? And so the rumors spread, making their way into books, TV talk shows, and magazine articles.
The propagandists never came to where we were, never worked alongside us, never saw what we saw, never laughed or cried with us. What is the most upsetting to me about this is that the condition of the children, the suffering that was being relieved, the long-term subtle changes in individuals which were resulting were completely ignored; instead, care for the weak was belittled.
It still hurts to remember the numerous times powerful people accused us of using the poor for our own gain. These confrontations would take place in a conference room situated 50 yards away from a room filled with severely abused disabled kids—our “kids”—and not a single one of our accusers ever stepped into the wards where we worked. We invited them to come, but, in response, got this reply,
“Oh you Christians, if we come, will we get paid big bucks like you? Actually sign us up on your roster of converts; we’re willing to play that game too.”
One of my life verses from the Bible is found in Romans Chapter 14 verse 16. “The Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking but righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.” Walking with Jesus is not going to make you filthy rich. He asks us this question: “What does it gain a person if she gains the whole world but loses her soul?”
You might end up losing your house, your land, even your life, but you gain richness of soul beyond any other wealth; joy which lasts for eternity and a peace that covers and confirms God’s deep love for you—something that is priceless.
When the rice was finished, the Rice Christians were faced with the choice to walk with Jesus where he walked—he told his followers “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”—or to leave like the rich young ruler, sad and hopeless.
“Rice Muslims” will be faced with the same dilemma. In fact, some of the handicapped people we know who covered up, joined the religious groups, became party members, have already shown signs of discontentment. They’ve taken off the headscarves and quit going to the meetings. For one reason or another the “Stuff” didn’t have enough power to keep them in the fold of the faithful.
Their deepest needs are still righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.
Jesus, The Message from Matthew Ch.6:
“What I am trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so that you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and how he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how He works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”