Gospel Ministry, Part 4 :: Culture Shock (cost of living)

A view from the old bridgeMy first visit to Wales lasted two weeks, spending most of my time with pastors and church leaders, being accommodated in their homes and sharing in family mealtimes with them. The frenetic pace and frequent meetings left little time to explore the culture, let alone get a better idea of the cost of living.

Getting Around
At that time (October 2003) the exchange rate was $1.60 U. S. dollars (USD) for every £1.00 UK pounds (GBP). Gasoline was £0.79 per liter, translating into about $4.80 USD per gallon. Today, the exchange rate is $1.96/£1.00 and the cost of petrol fluctuates between £0.86 and £0.90 per liter; which means that driving a car can be a major expense! It costs us about $6.50 USD per gallon now, which means approximately $100.00 USD to fill up our 16 gallon tank. Many people do not even own a car in Britain, which may be difficult for most Americans to grasp, but our public transportation links are very convenient, timely, and usually more cost effective for one or two people to travel by bus or train than by automobile. Our son and his wife live in Sheffield, England, about three hours away, and they do not own a car; yet both of them travel by foot, bicycle, or bus every day to their respective jobs, social activities, and church meetings. One of the deterrents for them is the massive insurance cost for under 25’s. Even if someone gave them a car, they couldn’t justify spending £1,600 policy premium each year. Since moving into a different home in July 2005, we now walk just about everywhere we need to go. My wife walks just over a mile (one way) to work every morning, rain or shine, in the Christian bookshop located in the town center. It’s a bit ridiculous, but we drive into town on Sundays to church, just to accommodate the footwear fashions of the ladies in our home. Going to the doctor, or visiting friends, or shopping can be done on foot; and if you buy more than you can carry, there’s always a local taxi sitting outside the supermarket. One tankful of petrol lasts us about six weeks unless we make a lot of trips into Cardiff, the capitol city of Wales, about ten miles away.

Rent & Utilities
The two homes we have rented thus far have been fully furnished: an absolute must since we sold nearly all of our furniture and appliances before moving to the UK. Housing costs are enormous in Wales, having quadrupled in the past six or seven years. By American standards, our 3-bedroom 1-bath home is quite small with no front yard and a very small backyard that has been completely paved; yet this house would sell for £125,000 or nearly $250,000 in U. S. currency. This means that we could never afford to buy another home unless someone graciously gave us the house or made a massive downpayment in our behalf.

Here’s a look at our basic monthly expenses:

  • Rent: £450
  • Property taxes: £85
  • Electricity: £32
  • Gas heating: £29
  • Maintenance Plan for Heating System: £18
  • Water: £24
  • Telephone/Broadband: £50
  • Television: £25
  • TOTAL: £713 per month = $1,385 USD per month

Don’t ask me how we make it from month to month, because these figures don’t include food, clothing, petrol, household products, auto insurance, prescription drugs, life insurance, entertainment/hospitality, or any miscellaneous expenses. On paper it looks very discouraging (perhaps impossible), but God continues to provide for us with everything we need at the proper time. The cost of living would normally be a major consideration when moving to another culture, from a human perspective, but responding to God’s call to serve Him as a missionary in a foreign country should never be contingent upon such things. We made some major adjustments to our lifestyle when we arrived in Wales nearly three years ago, largely due to concerns about the cost of living and whether our financial support would stretch far enough each month. With a more conservative approach to the stewardship of our limited resources, we discovered the joys of a simpler life and found ourselves quite happy to be living in such a wonderful place. Each person in our family missed certain things from our previous lifestyle in Florida, but we recognized that we had exchanged a handful of temporal luxuries for something far more important in the grander scheme of God’s kingdom. (to be continued…)

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