Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rich Malaysians in an Age of Hunger

What a typical Malaysian family would need to give up if we were to adopt the lifestyle of a typical family living among our marginalized, unseen and poor neighbours? Let us imagine:

“We begin by invading the house of our imaginary typical Malaysian family to strip it of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, Astro and television set, lamps. We will leave the family with a few old blankets, a small kitchen table, and a wooden chair. Along with all of these, so goes the clothes. Each member of the family may keep in his ‘wardrobe’ his oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. We will permit a pair of shoes for the head of the family, but none for the wife or children.

We move to the kitchen. The appliances have already been taken out, so we turn to the cupboards… The box of matches may stay, a small bag of rice, some sugar and salt. A few sweet potatoes (or ubi kayu), already in the rubbish bin, must be hastily rescued, for they will provide much of tonight’s meal. We will leave a handful of onions, and a dish of long beans. All the rest we take away: the meat, the fresh vegetables, the canned goods…

Now we have stripped the house: the bedroom has been dismantled, the running water shut off, the electric wires taken out. Next we take away the house. The family can move to a smaller house with no fan… Communications must go next. No more newspapers, magazines, books, smart phones, tablets, computers – internets! – not that they are missed, since we must take away our family’s literacy as well. Instead, we will allow only one old radio instead…

Now government services must go. No more policemen, no more firemen, no 1Malaysia shops. There is a school, but it is three miles away and consists of two classrooms… There are, of course, no hospitals or doctors nearby. The nearest clinic is ten miles away and is tended by a midwife. It can be reached by bicycle, provided that the family has a bicycle, which is unlikely… by boat if the family can afford to buy petrol… Finally, money. We will allow our family a cash of RM15 daily. There are no way to apply for BR1M because nobody care for marginalized people anymore, not even valid Malaysian citizen with I.D. card. The family may get a one-time cash of RM6k if only they ‘sell’ their soul and faith for a religious. Most of the time, ignored.”*

How many of our brothers and sisters confront that kind of grinding poverty today? (Maybe less, but surely happening today). Probably at least hundreds (or thousands, who know) of people in Malaysia are as poor as this. They know hunger in a way that most of us have never known. Why? Not because it doesn’t exist, but because we don’t care to know and see. Jesus through the apostle John is telling us now: “[If] anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18, ESV). For the sake of Christ, are we identified with the hunger and the poor (as above imaginary family situation)? Do we care for the marginalized and the oppressed? Do you love Christ?

*I use and modified the imaginary family analogy above from Ronald’ J. Sider’s Rich Christians in An Age of Hunger book (Introduction, Part 1).
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