In the summer of 2000 I journeyed from Botswana, Africa to the war-torn nation of Mozambique for relief work. Devastated by decades of civil war, this nation was among the poorest of the poor. A corrupt government, poor infrastructure, and the inability to meet basic human needs left millions of people in poverty. And then the rains came.
While most Americans were caught up in the 2000 presidential primaries, Mozambique was being ravaged. All major rivers in the lower half of Africa flow out through Mozambique, and extensive rains had swollen the rivers to the point that much of Mozambique lay under water. Think New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, but half the country and with no effective government response. Entire villages were wiped out, pregnant women were giving birth in trees, waiting to be rescued.
A few months later, after relief teams were allowed to go in, I went to help the UN distribute seed to the farmers trying to rebuild their livelihood. I’d already lived in Africa for a year, so I thought I knew poor. I didn’t. This level of suffering as an overwhelming experience for me, which made what I experienced next even that much more shocking.
The Christians in Mozambique were happy. Not just ‘happy’ happy, but joyfully, contentedly happy. These were the same people with no electricity, no stable housing, walking two miles one way to be able to bucket dirty water to drink. Their church consisted of a wall of sticks held together to somewhat look like walls and a leaking roof of rusting, corrugated metal. These were the same people who lived subsistence level lives with no real shot at a way out. And these were the same Christians who’d just had what little they had taken away by ravaging floods. And yet they were truly, genuinely happy.
The more I hung around them, the angrier I honestly became. They had no right to be happy! They had nothing! They had no reason to be happy! And yet they were. Do you know why? They had Jesus. That was it. But I couldn’t accept it. It was too simplistic. I knew Christian friends back in America who had more than these people ever would, miserable and stuck in therapy, trying to figure out why their lives were so horrible.
These people, the poorest of the poor, had no right to be happy, and yet they were. The light of their joy pierced through my hypocrisy and exposed one of the greatest errors I’d made in life growing up: I thought that Jesus wasn’t enough to be happy. Sure, sure, I’d always say that Jesus was enough, but in my heart, He wasn’t. I needed Jesus and a girlfriend, Jesus and a good education, Jesus and lots of stuff. Yet I was never satisfied.
It took a trip to a war-torn, flood-ravaged country, living alongside the poorest of the poor to realize that Jesus is really enough for joy and happiness in this world. Being back in the States now for the past 12 years, I’ve yet to encounter Christians as genuinely happy as the ones I encountered in Mozambique. Jesus is all I need to be happy. Everything else just muddies it up.