A Response to Roger Greenway
Only a few minutes after our wedding my older brother warned me that Roberta and I ought not to start a family until I was able to finish my Ph.D. We followed that advice--that took three years. She did nursing as well as studied with me. That helped us through financially. But when we decided to go on to seminary the dam broke and we had two children in the next three years, and then it was I who worked part time both as an engineer and as a "student minister."
Those were years of willing frugality. Even before we were married I had already adopted some rather radical lifestyle simplicities. In fact, we got by on little that after graduation from seminary--when we became missionaries--our income doubled!
We lived out of suitcases for a year in language school in Costa Rica. That's why our "barrels and crates" were sent down from the States later. And yes, as in Roger Greenway's article, "Eighteen Barrels and Two Big Crates," (pages 31-34) we can still recall with embarrassment standing there among our desperately poor Indian neighbors as our barrels and things finally arrived at our new home in the highlands of Guatemala.
The lessons of that moment--and later moments--were written up by my wife in an article, "The Non-essentials of Life," at the request of Moody Monthly. It was their cover story, although it almost did not make it through the editorial process. Some of the Moody Monthly staff were not too excited in those days about a "simple lifestyle." One was quoted to us as saying, "Is she trying to tell me I shouldn't have bought that CuisineArt kitchen blender for my wife?"
In her article Roberta drew six lessons out of our ten years on the field. Had we not been invited back to help Fuller Seminary start their new School of World Mission under Donald McGavran and Alan Tippett, our perspectives on simple living would probably have never come to the attention of the Moody Monthly editors in the first place.
In fact, I don't recall how that happened. We had never on our own initiative talked or written about "simple lifestyle," although once this article hit the fan, so to speak, it was printed in other places-- it was a chapter in the book issuing from the Consultation on Simple Lifestyle which followed the Lausanne Congress in Switzerland in 1974, and simple lifestyle was the theme of one of the paragraphs of the Lausanne Covenant, urging us all to "live simply so that others may simply live."
However, the six principles which my wife's article brings out do not really emphasize simplicity. Simplicity for its own sake is not the main point for either Greenway or the Lausanne Covenant. "So that others may live" is more basic.
In some respects, my wife and I and our growing family in Guatemala actually lived more simply than the incredibly poor Indian families that surrounded us. A Mayan group of a quarter of a million who were the poorest group that size in the Western hemisphere, I believe, living below the level of adequate nutrition. And yet they unthinkingly indulged in soda pop and other junk foods. One result: we didn't have a bottle of soda water in our refrigerator the whole ten years we were there. Nor do we now. I didn't like the idea of babies dying while parents drank high priced sugar water.
I applaud most of what Greenway is saying. But Roberta and I prefer to speak of a "wartime lifestyle" rather than a "simple lifestyle." This reminds me of an illustration I heard from my son-in-law (a missionary in North Africa) on returning from the Queen Mary in the Long Beach harbor.
That floating museum, that immense ship, was used first as a peacetime luxury liner and then underwent a radical change when it was pressed into duty during World War II as a wartime troop ship carrying three times as many people.
I'll never forget Brad Gill explaining the lifestyle relevance of the two periods of that ship's duty: one exhibit showed the elaborate table setting of the peacetime use, while the other side of the same room showed the wartime tables with simple metal trays with six indentations for food. The ship's swimming pool was converted into bunk beds eight tiers high (imagine if you miscounted as you climbed the rope ladder to your bunk!).
But at the same time, wartime costs were enormous, and waste in the haste and urgency of that war was enormous as well. While that war drastically impoverished our country and plunged us into truly deep national debt for the first time, it galvanized our energies and creativity and launched us on a postwar recovery into industrial power and affluence from which we have never "recovered!"
Tell you what. Next issue we'll reprint Roberta's "The Non-essentials of Life," with some further comments on Greenway.