By Wesley Chow

The Poverty of Economic Privilege

I am insecure about biscuits. You know—those little, crumbly, sweet cookies British people eat with tea. Yup, I’m insecure about a confectionary delight. I feel a mixture of guilt, struggle, and joy whenever I see one. Let me explain.

This past summer I had the chance to entrench myself in something radically different from my normal life. I went on the InterVarsity Global Urban Trek to Kolkata, India, where I spent six weeks being with the urban poor and learning about God’s heart for the world. During the Trek, my team and I were asked to live simply. We lived as close as possible to the wealth level of the people surrounding us.

This was one of the hardest parts of the trip for me. I grew up in an upper-middle-class Chinese American family in the Bay Area. My parents are immigrants from Hong Kong who have persevered through economic struggles to reach their goal of financial stability and security. They’ve done their best to protect me and my brother from any kind of lack. And they did pretty well. I’ve always had more than enough to eat, which developed in me a hunger for good food, and lots of it.  

Living simply entailed giving up that prosperity and overflow I had developed a taste for. And honestly, I struggled to do it. I remember always diving in for another scoop of rice, another hit of curry, and just one more biscuit. Heck, I remember eating an entire package of biscuits for breakfast on some days. In Kolkata, I dreamt of the fields of biscuits my economic privilege could afford me back home.

These thoughts confronted me with the extent of my gluttony. It may sound ridiculous, but the struggle was very real for me. I recognized two important truths: (1) I am a follower of Jesus who has more than I need, and (2) Jesus asks me to give my overflow and sometimes even more. But I was struggling to give out of the little I had on the trip; even when I’d ask if anyone wanted the last helping of a meal, I was secretly desiring it for myself. How in the world would I be willing to give from my abundance when I got home?

God uses little moments like this to more fully orient us to his kingdom. My Trek partner, Garrett, and I spent our days being with women making soymilk in the slums. The soymilk we helped make was given to the women’s own children for lunch every day. Quite often, they would also give their kids . . . biscuits. What blows my mind is that the ladies shared their soymilk and biscuits—food reserved for their own kids—with Garrett and me as well. Although I was a stranger, I was treated like one of their own.

I realize now that I had my own poverty going into the Trek. Because of my economic privilege, I have never experienced what it’s like to have little. As it was put at my InterVarsity chapter’s fall conference, I lacked lack. It’s hard to give when you don’t know how much you have.

My friends in the slum, however, know what it’s like to have little. And yet they still gave, pouring their radical generosity on us. Like Jesus, they loved us as their own children. They brought me one step closer to understanding the values of God’s kingdom each time they shared with me.

Now, biscuits are an embodiment of my guilt with gluttony, my struggle to be generous, and, most of all, the love I experienced from my friends in Kolkata. They represent the ways my economic privilege has shielded me from being generous but also how economic privilege can be used to help bring God’s kingdom to earth. Biscuits are God’s way of reminding me to be radically generous with the resources I have—and that makes them even sweeter.

Wesley is a senior at the University of CaliforniaDavis studying Food Science. He really likes Communion crackers and juice and hopes to someday share Communion crackers and juice with all his friends, future friends, and Jesus.

Images by David Hui and Amy Hu.

For more on the Global Urban Trek, watch the video!

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