Living Below the Line

Today’s is a guest post from Beth Rowland, a student at the University of Nottingham who attends St Nic’s.

Food1The concept of Live Below the Line, spending just one pound a day on food, was something I’d heard of before May 2015, but not something I had ever considered doing myself. The idea terrified me – I love food, and food is pretty expensive. How would anyone even survive on £1 a day? The brutal reality is – billions of people do. 1.3 billion people, to be exact, are living on $1.25 a day, just less than one pound sterling. And 3 billion people live on just $2.50 a day. This truth is humbling, to say the least.

This summer, I will be joining Operation Mobilisation (OM) on a mission trip to Hungary. I’ll be helping out a church bible camp, teaching English and generally entertaining the children of the village of Felsoors, many of whom are from very basic backgrounds. A group of seven friends from my home church, St. Nics in Nottingham, are travelling on a similar trip to Moldova, where they will be building a playground for the local children and also teaching them some English.

Together, we needed to raise over £2,000 and it was agreed that we would set ourselves the challenge of living below the line. Moldova is widely regarded to be the poorest country in Europe and the team wanted to challenge ourselves before we went abroad to step out of our comfort zone and begin to appreciate what life was really like for the people we would be working for in Eastern Europe.

As I write this, I have just finished my seven days of Live Below the Line and I think my immediate reflection is that it was tough – really tough. Yet I am glad I did it. When it was first suggested to me, I was sceptical to say the least. But I am glad I have done it, and I learnt so much about myself and about the strength I have through God that it has potentially been one of the best weeks of my life.

To make things easier and more economical, we shopped together before the start of the week. Eight people, living on £1 a day for seven days, meant we had £56 to spend on food. Initially the prices of food surprised me – from such a privileged background, I give very little thought to how much my food costs, trying only to ‘buy in moderation’. Cereal, squash, ketchup – all items we might consider ‘essentials’ were startlingly expensive with only £56 between us for the week. We were able to buy more than we thought though – lots of bread, rice, pasta and eggs. We even managed to sneak in a packet of custard creams so that we could have a few treats at least.

calendarWe split the food between us at church on Sunday night and prayed for the week ahead. Some members of the group frequently fast but I had never changed my eating habits before and I was very apprehensive. I struggled to see how I was going to have the strength or self-control to last seven days. We prayed blessing over the food, asking God that it would be enough to keep us fit and healthy, and we prayed that we would spend the week thinking deeply about our motivations for the challenge and how privileged we truly were, for this to be a ‘one-off’ challenge.

Monday morning arrived and by midday I was starving. Breaking my usual routine of big bowl of cereal and plenty of chocolate snacks throughout the day knocked me sideways. The fact that it was a week I had set aside to revise hard for my upcoming exams didn’t help – every student knows that revision time is prime snacking time! For dinner on Monday I ate pasta with passata sauce and some ham and vegetables. It was basic, and not particularly tasty, but it was what we had and I was grateful that there was a lot of pasta so it filled me up.

One of the best things about this week was definitely eating with friends. Living so close to other members of the mission trip group, some of us were able to cook and eat together every night and that was truly a blessing from God. With friends to chat to and laugh with, the food became less of the focus, and we were able to share with each other how we coping and feeling. There is something very special about eating with company, and friendships were grown and strengthened as we sat and shared our food together.

Tuesday morning was by far the toughest time of the week for me. I woke up at 5am, feeling sick I was so hungry and could do nothing but weep. I knew if I ate at 5am I’d be hungry again by 9am and so I forced myself to stay in bed and go back to sleep. That morning, I appealed to the rest of the group for prayer – I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to last the whole week. It was only Tuesday and I was already losing motivation, fast. I spent most of Tuesday sleeping, as I had barely enough energy to eat and I was scared that if I ate too much, I would run out of food before Sunday. I couldn’t believe that I had lost so much energy so quickly, as it was only two days since I had eaten properly. I was miserable and could do nothing but pray, begging God to fill me with his strength. The picture that comes to mind is of Jesus in the desert for 40 days. We don’t get to hear all the details, and I have often wondered if he was hungry. Did he weep as I did? Did he beg his Father to provide for him, as I did? I’m sure he did and like he did for Jesus, the Lord provided for me.

1948204_10201171836738323_984760163860203404_nI woke up on Wednesday feeling much more energised and healthy, though I had still not eaten properly. And for the rest of the week, I was able to recognise but ignore my hunger. I spent a lot of time in prayer and reflection, thinking about the people of Hungary and Moldova, and those across the world for whom poverty is a chain they cannot break free from. And now, having started a new week eating normally again, I am still acutely aware of that reality. I thoroughly enjoyed my fry up breakfast and the sweets I used for revision incentives, but I thought of those with nothing as I ate. And I realised that it was through the strength of God that I survived living below the poverty line. God said that he is the bread of life – you need only Him to survive, and it’s true! Humans often limit themselves: I’ll only run that far, I’ll only get that high on the career ladder, I’m only worth that much. These limits are the devil’s lies. Through God, we can do anything. Through God, we can do everything. That truth is humbling and liberating and it is one the Church needs to remember – I lived below the line because I had everything I needed in God and the challenge was nothing when faced with his immeasurable strength, love and perseverance.

What is the challenge in your life that you can conquer, with God in your heart, today?

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3 thoughts on “Living Below the Line”

  1. Thanks for the helpful reflections, Beth.

    As a matter of curiosity, I’d be interested to know more about the “£1 a day” budget – my impression is that £1 would buy quite a lot more in less developed countries than in the UK, and so I inevitably wonder how real the comparison is. Can anyone enlighten me (and others) about the accuracy of the comparison? I’m not suggesting that it is wrong, I’d just appreciate knowing (and being able to make the case to others) that the comparison is correct.

  2. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your comment!

    You are right – £1 in the UK is not equivalent to £1 in either Hungary or Moldova. This was something we considered before the challenge but we were unable to find out exact figures to convert into sterling.

    As such, we agreed that living on £1 a day would be sufficient to replicate the experience – in terms of both the quality and quantity of the items we could purchase. We were very aware of our privileged background going into the challenge and by no means claim to know what it feels like to live in poverty. The challenge merely opened our eyes to the potential hardships of living on a lot less than we were used to.

    We hope that through the challenge, we have learned more about the reality our brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe (and across the globe) face every day and can at least empathise a little, having given up much of our normal – but comparably luxurious – diet.



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