‘Providing for One’s Household’—Meeting the Challenge in Developing Lands
“CERTAINLY if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” So said the apostle Paul. (1 Timothy 5:8) While raising a family has become increasingly difficult in affluent countries, doing so in a developing land often presents an even more formidable challenge.
In Africa, for example, economic hardship is often the rule, not the exception. Jobs are scarce, and when they are available, husband and wife may both need to work in order to provide mere sustenance. Family heads may have to travel long distances to find work, leaving their mates and children alone for months—or years. Adequate housing may also be hard to come by. Many African families are large; living quarters thus tend to be cramped, lacking basic amenities. Unhealthy conditions often prevail.
In addition, local customs, long-standing traditions, and popular viewpoints may run counter to the spirit of God’s Word, the Bible. Consider some prevailing attitudes about marriage and children. Some family heads believe that they are responsible only for paying the rent and the obligatory school fees. Their wives—and sometimes even older children—are left with the job of providing such basics as food and clothing.
Furthermore, some husbands have the view that “my money is my money, but your money is my money too.” This often stirs resentment among income-producing wives. Complained one Tanzanian woman: “The money is spent on drinking, not on us or on the children. We share the work, or do more of it, but he takes all the money telling us it is his—that he earned it.”
Christians, however, place God’s Word ahead of local culture or popular opinion. The Bible gives helpful direction on the matter of caring for one’s family. For example, it says that “children ought not to lay up for their parents, but the parents for their children.” (2 Corinthians 12:14) Therefore, God-fearing men who are able to work do not out of laziness leave it to their wives or older children to provide food and clothing for the family; that responsibility falls squarely upon the shoulders of the family head.—1 Corinthians 11:3.
True, a husband’s income may not be adequate to care for all his family’s needs. But if his wife earns money outside the home, a Christian man will not be resentful. Rather, he will treat her as a respected “partner.” (Malachi 2:14) Thus, he will not callously take her hard-earned money and squander it with little regard for her feelings. On the contrary, he and his wife will ‘consult together’ and determine how their funds can best be used for the benefit of the entire family. (Proverbs 13:10) Where possible, a husband even allows his wife a measure of economic freedom, as was enjoyed by the “capable wife” in Bible times. (Proverbs 31:10, 11, 16) Following the Bible’s counsel in such matters promotes family happiness and contentment.
Facing the Challenges of Unemployment
Consider the problem of unemployment. When jobs are few and pay is low, many African family heads have sought work far away from home—in mines, in factories, on farms, and on plantations. If a Christian man were in this situation, he might well find himself isolated from fellow worshipers and exposed to very bad association. (Proverbs 18:1; 1 Corinthians 15:33) While his family might endeavor to make the most of the situation, they likely would suffer because of not having a father at home to take the lead spiritually or to render emotional support. Ironically, the long absence may also result in the very thing it was supposed to prevent—financial hardship.
One mother says: “My husband went to dig for gold. He planned to be back after a month or at the most after two. It turned out to be a year! I was left with six children to take care of. Then there was the rent to pay. Since my health was not good, I had to pay hospital bills. We needed clothes, and we had to eat every day. I had no job. It was hard. The most difficult part was taking care of the children spiritually—family study, meetings, and the preaching work. With Jehovah’s support, somehow we pulled through.”
Even some mothers have felt obliged to leave their families behind for months on end in order to work. Some make their living as traveling merchants and are rarely seen at home. Older children are thus forced to take on a parental role and care for meals, household chores, and even discipline of younger siblings. Participation in spiritual activities suffers. Yes, the strain on the family can be enormous!
Of course, when economic conditions are severe, a parent may have no other way to provide for his family than to seek distant employment. In Bible times the sons of Jacob evidently had to leave their families behind in order to obtain provisions in Egypt. (Genesis 42:1-5) So when similar situations arise today, family heads must weigh whatever material benefits a distant job might bring against the spiritual and emotional damage of a long separation. Many families prefer to endure economic hardship rather than to separate for a lengthy period of time. They bear in mind Paul’s words found at 1 Timothy 6:8: “Having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.”—Compare Proverbs 15:17.
Oftentimes there are alternatives to traveling. By demonstrating initiative and ingenuity, some have been able to create employment by providing useful services.* (Compare Proverbs 31:24.) Or it may be a matter of accepting humble jobs that are viewed by others as menial. (Ephesians 4:28) The apostle Paul himself ‘labored and toiled night and day’ so as to avoid being a financial burden to others. (2 Thessalonians 3:8) Christian men today can follow that example.
The Problems of Schooling
Another problem involves schooling. In some remote areas, it is common for parents to send their children away to live with relatives for extended periods of time to give the children adequate schooling. Separated from their parents, such children often have difficulty attending meetings or participating in the field ministry. Deprived of needed discipline, they easily fall prey to bad associations. As a result, a number have left the Christian way of life.
There is no question that secular education has its advantages. But the Bible places a higher value upon a spiritual education, and God has given parents the responsibility to provide such instruction. (Deuteronomy 11:18, 19; Proverbs 3:13, 14) Sending a child away for long periods of time, however, will likely undermine a parent’s efforts to raise him “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.”—Ephesians 6:4.*
When local opportunities for education seem inadequate, parents may have no choice but to do what they themselves can to teach their children basic skills. Help is also provided by our “Grand Instructor,” Jehovah. (Isaiah 30:20) Local congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses offer a number of educational provisions. Many congregations conduct literacy classes. The Theocratic Ministry School is likewise a helpful provision that can sharpen a child’s ability to read and speak clearly.
A Balanced View of Childbearing
Providing for children can be particularly difficult when there are many. African parents will often say that they love children; hence, they have as many as they can! While children may be viewed as an economic resource, many parents are unable to provide adequately for a large number of them.
Of course, the Bible says that “sons are an inheritance from Jehovah.” (Psalm 127:3) Note, however, that those words were penned during a period of favorable conditions in Israel. Later on, severe famine and war made childbearing trialsome. (Lamentations 2:11, 20; 4:10) In view of the difficult situation that prevails in many developing lands, responsible Christians should give serious thought to how many children they can realistically feed, clothe, house, and train. Having calculated the expense, many couples decide it would be best to go against tradition and limit the number of children they have.*—Compare Luke 14:28.
Clearly, these are “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) As this system of things plummets toward its inevitable end, no doubt pressures upon families in developing lands will increase. Yet, by adhering closely to the principles of God’s Word, family heads can succeed in caring for both the physical and the spiritual needs of their families, for Jehovah makes this promise to those who loyally serve him: “I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) Yes, even in impoverished lands, Christians can successfully meet the challenge of providing for their households!
See the article “Creating Jobs in Developing Countries” in the October 22, 1994, issue of our companion journal, Awake!
For further details, see “Questions From Readers” in The Watchtower of August 15, 1982.
Helpful information was provided in the series “Family Planning—A Global Issue,” which appeared in Awake! of February 22, 1993.