Years ago a Branch representative from somewhere in Africa made the rounds here—I don’t quite remember why—speaking before various gatherings. He kept marveling that in America everyone has “washing-up machines.”
“You Americans are so spoiled,” he said. Not only does everyone have a car but you even have garages to put that car in. “In Africa, four families would live in that garage.” He stated many times that “life is cheap” in Africa, and how it was so easy to lose it to violence, poverty, unstable governments, whatever.
He was a great storyteller. He related how he had asked representatives of an area where the work was banned whether they could use anything. Yes, the brother replied. They could really use one of those massive superpowerful Xerox machines. “Of course, you would be arrested (or did he say shot?) if caught smuggling one in……..but you asked.”
”We have to get those brothers a Xerox machine,” he turned the thought over in his head for days and spoke about it with others. Finally a group of brothers hatched a scheme to attempt just that. He described a scene at the airport where his carefully laid plans of concealment fell apart and the machine became visible for anyone having half a brain to look there. As if they didn’t see it, as if Jehovah had struck them blind, (these are his analogies, not mine) guards waved them through. Possibly he had some ridiculous threadbare cover story that nobody thought to challenge.
Yeah, standard of living is pretty high in the States. Expenses too are astronomical. Just like in the developing world, the majority live continually strapped for cash. Most people are equally drowning, just drowning at a higher sea level. They might be able to send dough to someone far away who asks, but they’d have to sell a lamp or forsake something to do it. Paycheck to paycheck is how the majority live, even in developed lands.
Of course, this is by no means obvious to someone from afar who can only see the high lifestyle. Many times it has been pointed out that it is only in developing lands that the friends can truly appreciate Jesus’s prayer to ‘give us today our daily bread.’ In Western lands, where there are mortgages, car payments, insurance policies, and various other amortized expenses, people have no idea what their daily bread requirements are. They just know that when they reach for cash, there doesn’t seem to be much of it.
In general, the constant refrain to keep one’s life simple has had its effect on the brotherhood. Here, you can’t tell who has dough and who doesn’t. Outward appearances mean nothing. Someone outwardly living the flashy life may be hopeless ensnared in debt. Someone with no financial concerns whatsoever may be living low-key. Even Elon Musk says he does not live a life of “conspicuous consumption.”
Among the ones who chase after the dough in the West are some refugees once they adjust to their new home. The ones who go this way make poor candidates for the kingdom message. Using pooled resources often from others of their nationality, they buy a spacious home in a fine area and everyone in it works two jobs or more. Usually they are minimum wage jobs, but string enough of them together, and before long they’re living the material life to make any Westerner envious. Family life doesn’t immediately fall apart, since they come from places where ties are strong.
Then, of course, there is always my screwball friend Curt, the one raised in the circus who had semi-scamming and treating people as marks seemingly stamped into his DNA, the one who by sheer fanaticism, started with nothing and became a millionaire through selling used cars (inherently fraught with scam potential), then sector funds, who drove Fidelity nuts calling them multiple times each day transferring his entire net worth from one fund to another. Yet all the while he lived as though a pauper, not to fool people, but just because he was naturally screwy. In his early days of intense zeal (after which he became pretty much a hermit but always retained his brand of godly devotion—“in the truth,” I guess, though no one ever saw him) people would note how he dressed in torn rags and would buy him clothes. “Oh wow, thank you,” he’d say, put the clothes in the drawer in case he ever needed them, and continue to wear rags. “Don’t ever tell people if you have money,” he would say, “because the first thing they will say is, ‘Oh—can I have some?’
This is the same yo-yo who went on and on about the “great business plan” when someone sent official looking letters to all homeowners implying the government wanted to standardize house numbers and so you had to send $160 to get a certain style sign that they would send you.” I still see some of those signs around—they’re quite attractive but you did pay for them. “What do you mean, ‘great business opportunity?!’ I would tell him. “They’re scammers who should be shot!”
”To most people, Curt was a great pain in the neck,” I wrote in No Fake News. “But to his friends he was—well no, he drove them crazy, too.”
Don’t get me going on this character. Like Mick Jagger, if you start me up, start me up, if you start me up baby, I’ll never stop, never stop, never never NEVER stop” Curt could make a grown man cry.
see Part 3: