I Am a Spoiled American

I confess. I am spoiled.

It isn’t a secret with my family. I am the youngest of six children and I am pretty sure that all of my older brothers and sisters would say that I am spoiled.

What can I say? I was a late-in-life pregnancy for my mom and she loved me with just about every ounce of her being. I couldn’t ask for a better mom. And I have to say (over the protests of my siblings) that I was the most obedient of them all.

They can call it being spoiled. I call it being rewarded for being good 🙂

As a young teenager, it was often just my mom and me for dinner and she would make whatever I wanted. I was a picky eater and so my typical weekly menu was hamburgers, pizza, eggs, bacon, hamburgers, fried chicken, pancakes, and hamburgers.

Did I mention that I love hamburgers?

Actually cheeseburgers. Ketchup only.

Unfortunately I never grew out of my picky-eatiness. I did add a few vegetables along the way. Thanks to my wife. And I learned to eat fruit by blending them to oblivion until they make a nice fruit smoothie. No chunks please.

But meat is still my menu item of choice. Especially hamburgers.

That poses a problem when I go overseas.

Meat is not a staple in many parts of the world. It is a luxury item. I found this out on my recent mission trip to Uganda.

Our church has supported a national pastor in Uganda for many years. He and his wife have become good friends with us. We are so impressed and blessed by their ministry. And he has always invited me to come to Uganda.

Finally we decided to go. We took a team of nine people with us.

While the rest of the team was concerned about vaccines, Ebola, malaria, long flights, and things like that. I only had one concern.

What would I eat?

I packed my bag with plenty of protein bars, breakfast bars, and beef sticks, expecting that I might need to eat a few of them each day. Little did I realize that I would actually depend on them for sustenance during my entire two-week trip.

I tried to eat the Ugandan food but my appetite just wasn’t there. Their diet consists mostly of matoke (cooked plantains), rice mixed with all kinds of spices and vegetables, and lots of fruit.

Lots of fruit!

Mango. Pineapple. Watermelon. Papaya. Bananas. Jackfruit.

For fruit lovers…it is a culinary paradise.

For meat lovers…it is a little more sparse.

They do have meats. Usually freshly killed chicken and pork. But it is cooked differently and usually not very plentiful. Beef is sometimes available but usually very chewy and hard to eat. Whenever meat is around, it is typically mixed in with everything else. It is more like a garnish than a centerpiece on the plate.

I don’t say all this to garner any kind of sympathy.

The Ugandans love their food and every one else on our team loved it as well.

I was the odd ball.

The picky one.

The spoiled one.

I realized just how spoiled I am on this trip. I love food options. I love to be able to get what I want when I want it. I love having a Chick Fila down the road or a Dominos that can deliver right to my door.

Our refrigerator has plenty of food. Plenty of options. I can make just about anything I want at any time of the day.

It is the kind of life that I am used to.

But it is not normal in other parts of the world.

I have been to Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, Honduras, Argentina, Moldova, and Romania on mission trips. In almost every case I struggled with the local food but I could find some kind of American food nearby.

That wasn’t the case in Uganda.

There wasn’t a McDonalds to be seen anywhere. I think the only American fast food restaurant is a KFC in Kampala. That’s it.

So I felt my limited food pallate much more on this trip.

And I lost ten pounds in the process.

My own personal Ugandan Diet.

But I survived and I learned a lot in the process.

I am so blessed to live in the United States and I take so much for granted.

Running water. Clean water. Electricity. A refrigerator. A freezer. Food in the refrigerator. Food in the freezer. Food in the pantry. A toilet. A shower. Water supply. Water pressure. Hot water. A sewage system. Trash service. Mail service. Paved roads. Sidewalks. Traffic laws. Traffic lights. Green lawns. Comfortable homes. Multiple rooms in our home. Floors in our home. Beds. A kitchen. Appliances. A TV. A computer. Multiple sets of clothes. Closets. Drawers. Air conditioning. Multiple places to shop and to eat. Reliable transportation. Drainage. Police services (without bribes). Educational opportunities. Job opportunities. Medical services. Good doctors. Good hospitals. Good healthcare.  Financial abundance. Food abundance. Comfort abundance. Leisure abundance.

I often just assume that these things are normal. Automatic. Standard options on the road of life.

But they are not.

They are gifts. Blessings. Rich blessings.

They are the fruit of the labor and sacrifices of previous generations.

They are things to be thankful for each day.

Yes, our nation has its share of blemishes, problems, injustices, failures, and sins.

But it is also one of the best places that any person could ever live at any point in human history.

To miss this…or to take this for granted…is the ultimate sign of blind ingratitude.

Those who have the least often give the most.

Before going to Uganda, I would assume that if you took me to a place where the people lived in small grass huts with cow dung floors, no electricity, no running water, and limited food, that they would be the most miserable people on earth.

I know I would be.

But instead I discovered that these people were the most joyful and generous people that I have ever met.

They were also so hungry for God’s Word that they kept begging me to teach them more.

And when I was done teaching, they served our entire team a sumptuous lunch (probably costing them almost everything they had) and gave me a live turkey as a gift.

A live turkey!

They had practically nothing but gave almost everything.

Meanwhile we have practically everything but give almost nothing.

There are a lot of people in the world…and they are all unique, different, and made in the glorious image of God.

Try to wrap your mind around the fact that there are eight billion people in the world.

Eight billion!

It is just a number in most of our minds. But as we traveled the countryside of Uganda, we saw thousands and thousands of people. Everyone in Uganda seems to be outside on the roads. Kids. Women. Men. Pedestrians. People on bicycles or motorcycles or stuffed into taxi vans or on the back of trucks.

Everywhere you looked, there were people.

There are 46 million people in Uganda and it seemed like we saw them all in our two weeks there.

And it struck me that every one of them is made in the image of God. Every one of them is important. Valuable. Unique. Right down to their finger prints.

Every one of them has a purpose in God’s eyes.

Every one of them is a person for whom Christ died.

Whether rich or poor…black or white…clean or unclean…they were each designed to reflect a particular aspect of the multi-faceted glory of God.

My heart was both overwhelmed and overjoyed.

Overwhelmed because there is no way that I can reach each of these people.

Overjoyed because I know that God can.

The best way to impact the world is through the gospel of Jesus Christ…one person at a time.

Uganda is a nation rich in resources. The Nile River. Lake Victoria. Lake Albert. Rich soil. Abundant crops. Coffee. Tea. Mangos. Pineapple. Rice. Bananas. Jackfruit.

Yet it is a nation that also has lots of poverty.

When you ask why, so much of it stems from long-entrenched corruption in the government. Uganda endured many years of Idi Amin. Since then, they have had many years of politicians who line their pockets with foreign relief aid. Uganda is considered one of the most corrupt nations in the world.

Because of governmental corruption, you can pour all the money you want into Uganda and all it will do is make the corrupt more corrupt, the powerful more powerful, and the rich richer.

That’s why the hope of nations like Uganda really is the local church.

The ministry we support in Uganda takes in orphans and abandoned children. They provide a first-rate education to all that come their way. They offer skills training and a microloan program to help people emerge out of poverty. They provide free medical services. They bless the community with food distribution and social services. And they teach people the good news of Jesus Christ.

Every person is loved by God.

Every person has a purpose.

Every person can be transformed.

Every person is offered eternal life as a free gift in Jesus Christ.

It was humbling to see their work.

Every shilling goes to where it is needed.

Accountability is emphasized.

Responsibility is taught.

Charity is practiced.

Eternity is impacted.

No one can reach everyone but everyone can reach someone.

That is the Christian mission.

That is the way of Jesus.

That is the beauty of the body of Christ.


So, yes, I am spoiled.

Spoiled by my momma.

Spoiled by the American way of life.

Spoiled by the many options that I have each and every day.

But I am also spoiled by my heavenly Father who has richly lavished on me all spiritual blessings in Jesus Christ.

In that case, it is not bad to be “spoiled.”

Unless being spoiled makes you, well, spoiled.

But there is another way you can respond.

Humble appreciation.

Daily gratitude.

Simple “thank yous.”

Joyful praise.

And abundantly giving what you have abundantly received.

The generous soul will be made rich,
And he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25)

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6 Responses to I Am a Spoiled American

  1. Carolyn Lambert says:

    Wow great post. It really brings home both how blessed and spoiled we are. It really struck me how you described their living conditions and yet they are some of the happiest people. I’m praying for the people of Uganda that corruption will be toppled and that the word of God will get to these beautiful people

  2. Cindy Cochran says:

    I love what you wrote and can identify. I spent 3 weeks in Goma, Zaire(now Congo) during the Rwandan conflict in 1995. When I got back home my modest home is a palace compared to what I had just left. When I returned to the States and first went back to my grocery store I began to cry in the cereal aisle because there were so many choices and abundance. It really hit me hard.

  3. Patty Herke says:

    Oh my goodness this is PRICELESS!!! The food, you are just like my daughter. She was born late in my life (truly a gift from our Lord!) My one and only. We also usually ate dinner with just us two most days. Being Italian ‘mangia mangia’ Whatever she wanted. Don’t know if it was best for her but special times nonetheless. After all it was just us two most nights.
    The Uganda trip seemed quit priceless. I’d LOVE for you to spend an entire sermon sharing about your trip and what this ministry has done. And when the pastor from that church, one can’t help but get a glimpse of Jesus in hm. Honestly one of the most touching ministry I have seen at CBC and worth sharing more.
    Thank you and your wife Pastor Steve .

  4. Martin Rangel says:

    Thank you, pastor Steve!

    I thank God for your life and ministry.

  5. Eduardo (Eddie) Barrios says:

    For many many years, because of experiences like you’re describing, mission trips should be re-titled as “Jesus Life Trips”! If one is open enough, a Jesus Life trips will provide your soul with living powerful examples of how the Kingdom of God operates. As western American Christians, we sometimes need to feel and see the stark contrast of other cultures living out the gospel of Jesus. It jolts us and we see the holy scriptures being lived out. On Jesus Life trips, we see the sermon on the mount come alive! We bottle up that experience and bring it home to change our lives or share it with others. Sometimes it sticks, but sadly other times the American life allows it to fade away. Then, we thank God for another Life trip to encounter that authentic sermon on the mount experience again.
    I also think your word “spoiled” is misused in your Jesus Life trip experience. The word is preloaded with many images of a “bad character” person which is not you. A more precise word would be “discomfort”. You had displeasure, hardship and interferences to what you are used to. I would venture to say that a Ugandan Christian would have some of the same discomforts coming to the USA. One becomes so tribal and forgets there are other tribes in the Kingdom of God living in a different cultures with different customs (and seriously different cuisine). You experienced the Uganda tribe – beautiful Jesus fearing souls and they didn’t have hamburgers in that tribe. You tried to acclimate, having some success, and in your discomfort something spiritual happened to you! Amen and Amen – a Jesus Life trip at work in the life of a western Christian American.

    I have so many great memories of how you and Liz played instrumental roles in my life and Mary’s. Much love to you my brother!

  6. Sharon Jones says:

    Yours is a good reminder that life as we know it is not the norm for most of the world throughout the ages. With so much material blessing to enjoy, we can easily forget the simple joys of being alive and the abundant blessings of being in Christ. We often focus on our perceived lacks rather than our actual benefits. A simple “thank you” from a grateful heart can change everything.

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