[Thursday afternoon, May 4]
I grew up in a family where every dime counted. In the village where we lived we were not the only ones who had to be extremely careful with their money. Outside the village were the ‘large’ farms of the rich farmers who could afford to have a nice, big car. When I came in the homes of some of my classmates, in the time when I went through secondary education, I saw the huge difference in the way they lived and we lived. But the first time that I very consciously experienced the moral aspect of the difference between filthy rich and dirt poor was some forty years ago, during my first visit to a developing country. I had been invited to attend a congress of Adventist book salesmen (colporteurs or ‘literature evangelists’) in Medelin in the South-American country of Colombia. I had been given a room in a five-star hotel, with a restaurant on the top floor that turned around in about two hours). Immediately next to the hotel was a ‘no-go’ zone for the hotel guests. There was a shanty-town with families with eight or ten children in hovels of less than 20 square meters. I enjoyed my luxury, but I remembered how it bothered me enormously to see the flagrant difference between rich and poor.
In the past week I often had the same kind of feeling. My wife and I had been invited by friends to spend a week on the French Riviera, a little east of Nice, at about 15 kilometers from Monaco. It seems to me that there are only few, if any, places in the world with so many millionaires and billionaires as Monaco. Rolls Royces, Masseratis and Bentleys are almost as common in the streets as are Citroëns or Opels. The harbor is place to hundreds of expensive yachts, many of which must have cost tens of millions of dollars, or possibly even more.
We visited among other things the Casino in the part of Monaco that is known as Monte Carlo. A ticket of 17 euro allowed us to gasp at the opulence of a large part of the Casino building–that is, at a time when there are no players. It is overwhelming in its display of glitter and wealth. Walking through the halls with their magnificently decorated ceilings and enormous chandeliers, I felt almost sick–not just at the thought of the enormous amounts that are gambled away in these rooms evry evening, but also from realizing that hundreds of millions of people live in abject poverty while here a small privileged elite can do whatever they want.
There is an enormous distance between Monaco and a place like Zeewolde, where we arrived back again some 40 hours ago. Our apartment does not offer us a view on the Mediterranean Sea, with cruise ships on the horizon. Tonight there is no generous host who will invite us to a phenomenal ballet in the Princess Grace Theater in Monaco, as we experienced exactly a week ago. [No, tonight I will drive the short distance to the city of Almere, to attend--together with some 150 other delegates--the opening session of the quinquennial session of the Dutch Adventist Church.] The world in which I live is much more sober that that of many people at the Riviera. But I realize as never before that I have a much better life than most other people on this earth. Even though I drive around in a seven year old Citroën C3 Picasso and live with my wife on 120 square meters, I probably belong to the richest 1 % of the population of the earth!
Many conservative Christians talk a lot (and mostly negatively) about gays and lesbians in the church. [This thought comes almost automatically to mind after having spent a lot of time recently with a very committed gay couple.] Yet, it is a topic Christ never spoke about. However, he often spoke about the theme of ‘the rich and the poor’. And it seems that many of the conservative believers have hardly noticed that. A Christian lifestyle must be characterized by giving and sharing. That was also the message of many Old Testament laws and of many prophetic messages. Prosperity can be a blessing, but it turns into a curse when the aspect of ‘giving’ and ‘sharing’ is ignored. Fighting poverty is a holy cause. Giving and sharing are Christian virtues that must have high priority.
Moreover, all those who are materially blessed should never forget to be grateful. It was indeed interesting to spend some time in Monte Carlo, but I am very content with my life in Zeewolde.