Sunbeams burst through the fog that nestled among the fields and groves along a rural, two-lane road in southern Romania. On this early morning I was headed to the airport several hours away. Normally my car was loaded with three carseats and rowdy kids. On this day I felt the infrequent release of freedom that comes with driving alone on an open highway, my choice of music broadcasting from the Volkswagen’s speakers.
A young woman walked along the side of the road, heading the same direction. Her face turned toward my car as I approached. She was looking for a ride, a completely normal and acceptable way to get from point A to point B in Romania, and in most regions of the majority world for that matter. She wasn’t hitch hiking. She was sharing a ride with someone else in her community who owned a car, someone with access to a resource she was unlikely to obtain in the near future.
As a young woman, I also lived in the majority world, in a region where less than two percent of the population owned a car. Traveling from A to B sometimes involved sharing a vehicle with a stranger. Perhaps it was in the back of a pick-up truck or inside a Landrover, inside a repurposed Russian military vehicle or an overcrowded minibus. The fact is, in these circumstances, you get a ride with whoever is willing to stop and let you get in. In rural areas in particular, the alternative to riding with a stranger for several hours is walking for several days.
The young Romanian woman had limited affordable options, and she knew there would be plenty of vehicles along this route with drivers willing to give her a ride, something she had likely done countless times before. As she sat quietly in the front seat, a little surprised that it was a foreign lady that pulled over, she willingly engaged in conversation. She was seventeen-years-old, newly married and heading to work. A few minutes later I dropped her off at her destination and continued on my way.
I have not thought about this incident for months, maybe years, until a few days ago, when a news article streamed across my feed – “Romania police chief sacked after teen killed by kidnapper.” Click. “Hitchhiking girl murdered.” Click. “Southern Romania.” Click. Unheeded cell phone calls for help. Other missing girl remains found. Murderer confessed.
A fifteen-year-old girl was catching a ride home from one town to another, something millions of individuals do every day across the globe. This was the same road where I picked up the girl on her way to work. Another day, another driver, devastating result.
He used his car – his resource, his privilege – for evil. I was also privileged to own a car. It was a luxury very few in my community owned. I was nervous, with my halting language skills, to pick up a stranger, but also knew my car was a resource for me to steward.
A steward, in the Biblical context, is one who oversees all the resources of his master. He owns nothing, but has responsibility for all his master’s possessions. Scripture is clear that we are not our own. Our bodies (I Cor 6:19, 20), our possessions, our gifting – all have been given to us to steward.
Do our things equip us for good works and God’s glory, or are they solely used for personal ends? To be sure, anything we have can be used either way, but are we purposeful, intentional, aware of how we are using it? Do we simply own things, or do we steward them?
In the economics of poverty, particularly in the majority world, sometimes just one thing, intentionally stewarded, can bring developmental transformation – a cell phone, a sewing machine, an internet connection, clean water, vaccinations, sanitary pads or a latrine. I have all that, and more. House, computer, car, camera, sewing machine, a bank account. . .
We need to be intentional in viewing ownership as stewardship of all our resources, not just bottom line finances or spiritual gifting, two areas of common discourse on stewardship. Some are called to steward their physical possessions by getting rid of them completely. Some are called to steward their resources by not getting rid of them, but using them for God’s glory though sharing in community, loaning items, or showing hospitality. All of this requires a move toward greater intentionality.
Things aside, there is a greater resource we need to be proactive and purposeful in sharing. All my physical resources facilitate a connection to people who are loved by God and need to hear words of truth. You, me, we are so well-equipped and resourced spiritually. But like our physical resources, we often use our spiritual resources only for personal growth and encouragement. We listen to years worth of sermons and sit through decades of Sunday School, but we don’t share that spiritual wealth with our own children, our neighbor across the street or a friend across the ocean. Like our stuff, the gospel is meant to be shared, intentionally.
Many other injustices are complicit in the situation of the murdered teenager – complacency, corruption, prejudice against the poor and the powerless, sexism, and more. And most of us feel far removed from the story of the girl in Romania. But all of us, whether in Romania or not, have been entrusted with a resources, with privileges, that require intentional stewardship. Proper stewardship wages war against injustice in whatever context God has placed us.