The $330,000 car for missionaries (more putting it in perspective)

Coffee girl confessions (thanks, Jutta for the link) has a post on missionaries who are relatively poor in the States, but “made of gold” in their mission context. She poses the following question:

Do you ever wrestle with the disparity between your own resources and those of the people you are working with? Do you feel guilty for the comforts of internet access, digital cameras, vehicles, etc.? Or do you choose to live without them to align yourself with the people you work with?

In one of the comment, Karis writes: [context: Cameroon]

We had just purchased a vehicle. All vehicles are imported so very expensive here. The blue book value in the U.S. is $4000, but we talked them down to $14,500 here. I like to crunch numbers. If you don’t or if my explanation of this is too confusing… sorry… Here we go — if you make $5 a day (which many here do) and work five days a week, you’d make approximately $1300/year. Our $14,500 vehicle (remember it is 13 years old so we’re not talking about a newer model here) is 11 years worth of salary for them at $1300/year. If the average American makes $30,000 a year and you take that $30,000 and multiply it by 11 years, that number is $330,000. So, here’s the bottom line. A $14,500 vehicle to someone out here making $1300/year is like a $330,000 vehicle to someone in the States making $30,000 a year. Someone making $30,000 a year in the States could never afford a $330,000 vehicle — that would seem like a luxury that is so out of reach except for “rich” people. Crunching these numbers helped me to realize why an African would think it’s such a big deal to be able to afford a vehicle. They’re not seeing our vehicle and thinking $14,500 — they’re seeing $330,000!

So, if we can afford a “$330,000” car, how can we not give them money for food, school, medicine, the dentist, and on and on… and we’ve only been here for 2 months and we’re already facing this frustration!

I grew up in the real African bush, and here is what my wise dad always said, “No one minds if you have money, as long as you are willing to share it.”

When Christi’s brother was here, we did a lot of thinking on similar issues – sustainability, indigenous church independence, etc. (He’s launching a missions team into Southern Sudan.) As we talked, I kept thinking that what we really need is more Christian business people willing to help poorer places generate wealth. I know missionaries aren’t used to thinking that way, and I’ll have to leave my thoughts for a future post, but . . .  (Kruse Kronicle has helped me with some of my thinking in this area.)

5 thoughts on “The $330,000 car for missionaries (more putting it in perspective)

  1. steph says:

    If there is one thing I respect about Mormons, it is the fact that they use public transport and bikes.

  2. Ben says:

    I know a lot of young people who do public transport. It gets harder when you have bigger families and live in more remote areas.

    Also, in certain context, having a vehicle around can actually save lives in the community. There are plenty of cars in our Nairobi context, but I’ve still rushed more than one person to the hospital in the middle of the night.

    Keep in mind, the car they are talking about in this comment, is an old/cheap car in America. There are just radically different scales of economy.

  3. jutta says:

    Actually, it is not me who wrote that question but “Coffeegirl”. I am only part of her blog roll.

  4. steph says:

    I know it is just a cheap car they are talking about. Cars are not only expensive and luxurious, they are environmentally destructive. That is why I respect Mormons.

  5. Ben says:

    There was never confusion in my mind, Jutta. Hope my rearrangement clarifies.

    Steph, Mormons drive cars (only their young missionaries don’t). The Mormons I know in the states are no different than anyone else – huge two car families, etc.

    Don’t come to Nairobi. Many of the public transportation vehicles here spew the darkest, foulest smoke.

    I do miss the public transportation system in Paris. Here you can be taking your life in your hands on some routes. In the US, many of the public transportation routes simply aren’t convenient. It could take hours to get from one suburb to the next.

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