A man lies quietly in a dingy hospital room in Cambodia. The hospital resembles an old Eastern European factory. The gray walls and dark hallways cry out against the indignity. Besides him sits an old man, probably a friend. He raises his right foot and brings it down repeatedly. Beneath his foot a crude contraption emits the sound of unnatural breathing. The machine opens and closes to the rhythm of the man’s foot. The sick man looks from his yellowish eyes to the friend who is keeping him alive. His silent face cannot hide his agony. The friend’s pumping is what helps him breath. In the absence of a modern machine hooked up to a power source, it is the strength of a foot and the disposition of a friend that deliver life or death.

This was just one of the shocking scenes I saw during my early travels to SE Asia. Should this happen in the U.S. today, there would be outrage, and rightly so. No human being should have to rely on the strength of feeble feet to keep her alive at the end. Yet, this is how countless people around the world still face their deaths. (Talk about the pressure to treat others with decency – you may just be the one I will need to pump air into my weak lungs in that place of torment).

The rest of the world serves as a manual from which to learn thankfulness. On average, women and children in Asia and Africa walk 3.7 miles to fetch water. Women do the heavy lifting, carrying 5 gallons (equivalent of 44 pounds) of water on their heads or shoulders. Meanwhile, the average household in the U.S. consumes 300 gallons of water per day, mostly indoor. In absolute numbers, the average “water footprint” of an American is 32,911 cups per day or 751,777 per year.

No, you are not drinking all this water (I hope not!). 96% of it is used to grow and make the things you eat, wear and use, and produce electricity. But of the available fresh water supply, the average person in the U.S. consumes 338,140 gallons per year. But more than one billion people around the world do not have access to clean drinking water. And I am not even talking about some of our other resources, like available energy, for example. Just consider this: While the U.S. population represents only 5% of the world, we consume 20% of its energy. We are an energy hungry people.

By way of comparison, look at this graph from The Population Reference Bureau and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (2007):

click to
compare to USA
Energy consumption
Hover over bar for actual data
Percent of global total
graph scale
China 1,318 million people
13,380 million barrels of oil equivalent
India 1,132 million people
3,280 million barrels of oil equivalent
USA 302 million people
17,260 million barrels of oil equivalent
Indonesia 232 million people
839 million barrels of oil equivalent
Brazil 189 million people
1,750 million barrels of oil equivalent
Pakistan 169 million people
428 million barrels of oil equivalent
Bangladesh 149 million people
136 million barrels of oil equivalent
Russian Federation 142 million people
5,220 million barrels of oil equivalent
Japan 128 million people
3,860 million barrels of oil equivalent
Mexico 107 million people
1,300 million barrels of oil equivalent
Philippines 89 million people
223 million barrels of oil equivalent
Germany 82 million people
2,480 million barrels of oil equivalent
Egypt 73 million people
466 million barrels of oil equivalent
Turkey 74 million people
743 million barrels of oil equivalent
Iran 71 million people
1,320 million barrels of oil equivalent
France 62 million people
1,920 million barrels of oil equivalent
Thailand 66 million people
665 million barrels of oil equivalent
United Kingdom 61 million people
1,620 million barrels of oil equivalent
Italy 59 million people
1,370 million barrels of oil equivalent
South Africa 48 million people
927 million barrels of oil equivalent
graph scale
Percent of global total

This should be enough to prove my point, which is made by a friend of mine through a simple but sufficiently penetrating sentence he coined (or borrowed): “Americans were born on third base.”

Now this does not mean that Americans should be ashamed of their technological advancement. It does not mean that an individual should be blamed for having certain built in advantages (though there is plenty of guilt to go around when it comes to Imperialistic practices that have delivered progress on the back of the less privileged).

My larger point is that our economical advantages bring us a sense of moral duty to be generous and helpful to those less favored. This has nothing to do with wealth re-distribution; it has to do with Christian compassion. It has nothing to do with handouts; it is more of a hand-up. It is not alms giving; it is giving that rises from a deep sense of gratitude for God’s bountiful provisions in our lives.

So this Thanksgiving season, don’t just be thankful – be the reason thankfulness rises in the heart of someone without hope. Don’t just say thanks, do thanks. Don’t just express thanksgiving, recognize that you are blessed, and bring others closer to third base with you.

And above all, remember the example of Jesus Christ, who though being the Son of God, chose to be humble himself to the point of death, for the joy waiting around the bend – the joy of seeing people like you and me reconciled to God once and for all. That’s the biggie. But not needing to rely on a foot pump to stay alive is not so bad either…

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA