In my last post I shared a bit about the slum of Merthare Valley in Nairobi where half a million people live. It is a place of contrasts with poverty as a main feature, and yet seasoned with beauty, redemptive smiles of children, and a thin but active economy.
When we first approached Methare Valley in our bus, all I saw was squalor. Lines of abandoned cars covered in dust, trash piled up with old men and children picking through it looking for something valuable, people standing around with seemingly nothing to do – the place looked like what depression feels like. I tried to imagine what it was like living there and my heart sank. I wondered, “Where is God?”
This question that emerges in the midst sprawling poverty, “where is God?” is exposing…of my own spiritual poverty. My immediate assumptions about Methare Valley and poverty and God had immediate implications. Although I did not overtly think this, the assumption supporting my question was that God cannot be where economic poverty is. In short, I was unwittingly admitting that I am much more beholden to the Joel Osteen style prosperity gospel than I would like to admit.
This is embarrassing since I am such a critic of this false teaching. To make the automatic assumption that economic conditions are some indicator light for the presence of God IS THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL!. Of course God is in Methare Valley. God is as much in Methare Valley as He is in my middle class neighborhood in Tennessee, the monasteries of Kentucky, Wall Street, or anywhere else. God does not play favorites and prove who is “blessed” by money.
When I looked to that which contrasted the poverty, I saw God. In the smiles of children, the the families that were still in tact, in the neighborly way people looked out for each other, in hospitable and welcoming spirit people had, in the lack of complaint for their situation – there is life in the slums. Slum churches were vibrant a live in their dark ramshackle structures. In the midst of economic poverty, life emerges, it presses through, and it is even thrives. Like flowers grow through the cracks of pavement, life presses through the pavement of poverty.
God does save people in the poverty of Methare Valley, but God also saves people in the poverty of Wall Street. The way God saves people usually has nothing to do with how much money they have. People saved out of effects of economic poverty of Methare Valley might never get rich while people saved out of the moral poverty of Wall Street might always be rich. There is no necessary correlation.
There is a life and depth of spirituality alive and well in Methare Valley that I do not have access to in middle Tennessee. There is constant faith for provision that I simply do not consider on a day to day basis. I must purge the prosperity gospel that has a greater hold on me than I want to admit and notice that my confidence in things has so comforted me that I have replaced faith in God with the reliability of the good infrastructure.
Where is God in Methare Valley? When I was there, God was busy - very busy. And one of the things he was doing was undoing layers of internalized bad theology in me.