Can the Poor Afford to Be Honest?
Amelia was only 29 days old when her grandmother brought her to the doctor. Amelia’s mother could not make the trip, for she was sick at home with the other four children.
Father was somewhere else looking for work. The doctor examined the infant. There were signs of malnutrition, not unusual in West Africa. But the main problem was cellulitis. Amelia’s tiny chest festered with a massive infection.
As the doctor handed a prescription to the grandmother, she asked: “How much will this medicine cost?” “Four to five dollars,” he replied.
Grandmother groaned. She did not have even two dollars to pay the consultation fee. “Where in the world are we going to get this kind of money!” she exclaimed.
“You’ll have to get it somewhere,” insisted the doctor. “Beg your friends and relatives. If you do not treat this infection, it will spread to the bloodstream, and the baby will die.”
Somehow Amelia’s family got the money, and the infant lived into her second month. However, millions in developing lands around the world cannot borrow money from friends and relatives. And the prospects for economic improvement are bleak.
The State of the World’s Children Report 1989 by UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) declares: “After decades of steady economic advance, large areas of the world are sliding backwards into poverty.” In Africa and Latin America, average income fell by 10 to 25 percent in the 1980’s. And during the past few years, in 37 of the world’s poorest nations, spending on health has dropped by 50 percent.
What does this mean for the millions living in poverty? For many, it means that they cannot buy needed food or medicine. Therefore, their children, marriage mates, or parents may face a needless death sentence, unless they resort to obtaining money in the only way seemingly open to them—by stealing! Yes, poverty can mean wrestling with agonizing moral dilemmas: thievery or death? lying or starvation? bribery or deprivation?
In West Africa there is the saying: “Where you tie the cow, there it will eat grass.” In other words, people will take full advantage of any situation that allows them to enrich themselves. All too often, those in authority in lands throughout the earth use their positions to extort bribes, embezzle money, or steal. ‘Help yourself while you can,’ is their reasoning. ‘You might not have a chance to do so later.’ As the economic plight of developing nations worsens, the destitute may increasingly endorse the idea that honesty cannot be the best policy for the poor.
The Bible says: “You must not steal.” (Exodus 20:15) But if the poor cannot really afford to be honest, is the validity of Biblical morals called into question? Are God’s laws impractical, insensitive to the real needs of people? The experience of thousands of true Christians in developing lands gives a dramatic answer to these questions.
[Blurb on page 4]
“Where you tie the cow, there it will eat grass”
[Picture on page 4]
The poor are among those who toil laboriously in developing lands