My wife and I recently visited a developing country. I’d never been to such a country before, and prior to our trip I thought I might come back to the States with a commonly-expressed attitude of feeling badly or guilty about all the stuff we have here. I’d heard this view expressed by my youth pastor in high school after he returned home from a developing country. At the time, I took him for what he said. I didn’t know anything about those trips or returning from one. Since that time, I’ve heard various friends and people on the internet mention feeling guilty to some extent after returning from a church trip. Naturally, I thought I’d feel the same way once we got home.
The trip was very eye-opening for me. I certainly interacted with numerous people who live with very little compared to me. Additionally, the infrastructure in that country…well, let’s say most Americans would be horrified if they saw it. It made me very thankful for what we have in America.
But I didn’t come home with a sense of guilt for all the things I have. Nor did I come home with a sense that I should feel guilty for the things I have. I came home extremely thankful for the things I have and have access to in America.
Now, before you think I’m a terrible person, I should also make clear that the lack of infrastructure and lack of quality public services (especially healthcare) in the country I visited bothers me. I wish they had access to certain opportunities and services because it would improve their quality of life, their education, and their health, among other things. I’m not saying I wish they were as materialistic as Americans; I’m just saying I wish they could improve services for basic human necessities. That, I think, is a perfectly Christian thing to say.
My point is this. I don’t think we should feel guilty about the things we have per se. One response I think is legitimate for people returning from developing countries is to feel convicted because they’ve seen people living on less and they know they have way more than they need. That conviction would, if acted upon, compel people to give away things they don’t use or need, be more generous with their money, and focus on God instead of pursuing stuff. That’s a good thing.
But feeling guilty just because we have more or better stuff than other countries? We shouldn’t feel guilty about that. Instead, that should motivate us to pray for and serve underdeveloped countries so they can have access to some of the quality services and necessities we often take for granted.