The hardest years were 2006 and 2011. Those were the years that Tanzania had massive power shortages, resulting in power cuts that went as high as 40 or even 60 hours per week.
It's always hot there, but during power cuts, it's stifling. I felt like I was sitting in a dark, stuffy cave. Or covered with a wet blanket in 90 degree weather. I could not sleep. I didn't want to cook. I didn't want to work. I didn't want to play with my kids. I wanted to sit in the bathtub and feel sorry for myself. For days.
But the strongest emotion I felt was not frustration, or annoyance, or depression, even though I did feel all those things. Mostly I felt guilty.
Guilty because I was feeling frustrated, annoyed, and depressed. I would tell myself repeatedly, Billions of people all over the world, including many who live down the street from me, never have electricity. What's wrong with you? Why is this such a big deal?
I felt weak. I felt whiny. I felt obsessed with my own comfort. And that made me feel even more guilty.
Many people we knew had purchased back-up power systems. We did not. After all, we were missionaries to Africa. We were tough. We should be able to put up with no electricity. And how could we live with the guilt if we owned a generator?
But after enough time, God worked on us. We came to realize that guilt as a motivator accomplishes nothing.
After multiple Friday night youth groups with no power, we realized that youth group is not very effective with 30 teenagers in a dark, stuffy house. We realized that our productivity went way down when we had no power--when we couldn't use our computers, or get a good night's sleep, or host people for dinner.
So we bought a generator. And a year after that, we bought a battery inverter system as well.
Yep, they were expensive. Your average Tanzanian would never be able to afford them. But I had gotten over the guilt and realized that it came down to our motive. We needed reliable electricity to do our ministry well, to do what people had sent us there to do.
My intention in my previous post was not to inspire guilt in middle class Americans. Being wealthy and privileged is not a sin. Only the love of money is a root to evil, not money itself. And if hearing about the plight of the rest of the world makes you feel guilty, then all that is accomplished will be throwing money at it every once in a while, to assuage your guilt.
I wrote that post because living in a third-world country for 16 years of my life has made me thankful. Deeply, achingly thankful for what I have been undeservedly granted. And it has given me a strong sense of responsibility to use what I have been given (not just finances, but my health, education, resources) to God's glory. Not because I feel guilty for having those things, but because I feel like I have been entrusted with a sacred treasure that I must use wisely and carefully.
It's kind of like salvation. If we feel guilty and indebted to God for what He has done for us through Jesus, all that we will be motivated to do is legalistic duty to get rid of the guilt. But if we are motivated by thankfulness for the tremendous gift He has given us, then it will be love that compels us.