As Christians, Drew and I try to trust in God and his ability to provide for our needs. One area this has been particularly challenging in Tonga is our finances. Before we committed to this year of mission and voluntary service, we were living a fairly comfortable life in Sydney (granted we were saving hard for our time overseas). In Tonga we have to be frugal.
My AYAD living allowance is barely enough to cover a single person and the strength of the Aussie dollar dropped against the pa’anga as well, which means our projected budget was almost $300TOP more per month, than what we currently live on. We were also promised free housing, which did not happen. In fact, we spent almost $2000AUD in initial set up costs for our home. Thankfully our Australian Partner Organisation, Uniting World is contributing a small amount per month to help us out. But still, things are tight.
It’s hard to trust in Luke 12:22–25 “Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life.”’
Yet in many ways, it is a blessing to live on less. Living a simpler lifestyle, with less disposable income means that we can more easily identify with our local friends and co-workers. Being white westerners” we will always have this position of privilege but this is one way we are trying to make this gap smaller. We share some of the same struggles that they do. Everyone’s power bill is too high (more costly per month than Sydney). Molisi Supermarket is way overpriced. We place less emphasis on material possessions, which are not of much concern to most Tongan people.
We can make it a priority to give. I find that, in general, the more money people have the harder it is to be generous with it. (Yes, I know that there are some wealthy and extremely generous people but they seem to be the exception, not the norm. Just look at Australia’s rate of charitable giving. Just look at Australia’s aid budget.) In Tonga, I’ve noticed that we share more with others and do it with willing hearts. Tonga has been a great place to learn the value of hospitality and how this can be a meaningful ministry.
We are more creative with what we have (my cooking improvisational skills kick ass) and we are thankful when we are blessed with luxuries. It’s refreshing to not have to buy into the consumer lies everyday that luxury items are actually necessity, that newness is best and that your phone/ clothes/ computer/ TV/ car should be upgraded for the latest version available. When we share a bottle of wine or have dinner out, we enjoy it more because it’s a rare treat.
Still, money can be stressful. Very stressful. It can cause arguments over inability to buy pasta sauce and whether our dog needs such a varied diet. Spoilt puppy.