As a college student, in an era when college tuition was much lower, I was able to pay my college bills without taking any loans. First, I had the support of my parents. They paid my bill in full for my freshman year, with the understanding that they did not have sufficient resources to continue that contribution for four years. In February of that year, I started working as a part-time janitor in a middle school. I spent most of my hours vacuuming, during which time I memorized vocabulary words for the foreign language I was studying, multitasking as much as I could. I accepted extra hours whenever they were offered, which often meant shoveling sidewalks and mowing grass.
Because of transferring to a new college and changing majors, I got a bit behind in my academic work. Hence, I took an overload when I was a senior, and had to quit working. I had to go back to my parents to help me pay for the last semester, when I came up seriously short. My parents were not wealthy—my dad worked in a factory and my mom did housecleaning. They were there for me when I needed their financial support.
They were in a position to help, not because they were wealthy, but because they practiced a lean lifestyle. In today’s era, we are surrounded by media advertisements and images that suggest we should buy bigger houses and more luxurious cars, and take more exotic vacations. As a result, most people I know seem to live on the edge of their financial resources. They are one rainy day away from bankruptcy.
Unfortunately, this is happening within a larger context in which a huge number of Americans are not planning for retirement. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, 45 percent of working-age households have no retirement savings. Not only are we running out of money at the end of the month, we are also failing to plan for retirement and declining health.
If we are unable (or unwilling) to plan for our own financial well-being, and the well-being of our sons and daughters, we are falling far short of the principle laid out by the Apostle Paul. In his letter to the Ephesians, he wrote, “He … must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” When we live on the edge of bankruptcy, we limit our ability to respond to our own rainy days; we limit our ability to invest in our sons and daughters; and we limit our ability to “share with those in need.”
The world is currently experiencing its most serious refugee crises ever. According to CNN stories, there are almost 60,000,000 people who have been displaced from their homes, with particular problems in Syria, the Ukraine, Iraq, and across Africa. “Humanity has never seen such displacement. Ever.”
“One clearly gets the impression that the world is at war—and indeed many areas of the world are today in a completely chaotic situation,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.
The Syrian crisis has received international attention this summer, with the influx of refugees into Europe, but this problem has been percolating for four years, with massive refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and, especially, Turkey. I challenge you to locate one of the refugee camps on Google Earth (such as the Al Zaatari Refugee Camp, Al Mafraq, Jordan) and get a sense of how just one of these refugee camps looks.
Area Middle East churches have invested themselves in working in these refugee camps, seeking to alleviate the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs. International groups such as Samaritan’s Purse and Doctors Without Borders have been working tirelessly. And yet, the overall American response to this unprecedented crisis of displacement has been underwhelming. But, what can you expect from a nation that already has $18 trillion in debt? We’ve compromised our own ability to help.
In a 2012 New York Times column, former President Clinton referred to the failure of the U.S. government to intervene in the genocide in Rwanda as one of his main foreign-policy failures, saying “I don’t think we could have ended the violence, but I think we could have cut it down. And I regret it.”
In a few years, we will also look back on this Syrian crisis with regret. We have not positioned ourselves to help in time of crisis, because we are living on the edge of bankruptcy. I beg those running for political office to make it a priority to put our financial house in order. Let’s restore American financial solvency.
Dr. Gary L. Welton is assistant dean for institutional assessment, professor of psychology at Grove City College, and a contributor to The Center for Vision & Values.