This may be sobering, but in 2013 at the age of 46 is the first time I’ve ever paid income tax in the United States. It is a privilege for which I am thankful. My kids go to good public schools, the police don’t stop me at road blocks to work a bribe, and I’ve never driven in and out of a pot hole in the USA as big as my car. Paying taxes for such privileges seems quite just in the big picture of humanity.
It is not that I’ve never paid taxes. Uganda and Rwanda both had Value Added Taxes that ran in the 17% range. Also, many of the goods that we purchased that were imported into East Africa such as fuel, vehicles, and items of basic hygiene (such as toothpaste) required customs taxes at the borders that increased their value by 30 to 100%. The taxes we paid in Uganda and Rwanda were one of the reasons that during our season in those nations our COLA (Cost of Living / Loving Adjustment) rating put living in both capital cities at about 50% more expensive than most cities in the American Midwest.
Thus it felt like a mysterious season of both fear and thankfulness as I spent a few days calculating my income taxes this year. Before moving to East Africa my income as a college student and associate minister / pastor was too low to pay income taxes. While living overseas we qualified for the foreign earned income exclusion (ranged from $70,000 to $90,000 during our tenure), and with a growing family that created numerous deductions we never crossed the income threshold that would have required for us to pay USA income taxes. (Somewhere between $90,000 and $120,000 of annual income from 1993 to 2011.)
As I went through Turbo Tax this year I watched the income taxes to pay number calculate a somewhat scary number. Then I reached the point of entering two dependent children attending college (Sophia and Caleb), and saw the number plummet to the point of receiving a generous tax refund. My spirit soared. I fell back into African vernacular and screamed, “Hoo Yee (Hooray!)” with my hands in the air.
Then I reached the next step of calculating my Illinois state income tax. It was a remarkably simple process, and I eagerly waited to find out what tax refund the generous state of Illinois would give me. Instead Turbo Tax kept telling me I owed state income taxes. I thought surely this must be wrong. I redid my state taxes three times, read and re-read Illinois tax law; and then finally relented.
The Federal government would give me a generous return. The State of Illinois would take a sizable portion. My kids go to good public schools, the police don’t stop me at road blocks to work a bribe, and I’ve never driven in and out of a pot hole in the USA as big as my car. Paying taxes for such privileges seems quite just in the big picture of humanity. A few days after paying my Illinois income taxes I voted for the first time in a local Wheaton School Board Election. It felt right to have paid taxes and then cast my ballot for who I thought could best lead our community. I’m thankful for the privilege.
A few weeks ago and old friend of mine from graduate school at Abilene Christian University called. I had not heard from him in years. It was a delightful conversation. He asked some questions about our beginning ministry and we shared the hopes for Great Lakes Fellowship (for news and photos of the Rwanda Genocide Commemoration in Chicago check out http://allafrica.com/stories/201304240142.html and https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151315461541364.1073741827.650346363&type=3.)
He asked how we were doing financially. I shared that December giving had been fabulous. Yet our monthly giving is down about 70% and we’ll shortly run out of savings. He decided to send a portion of his tax refund to us. We’re very thankful for such friends.
|Paulin Byusa, Ame Ishimwe, Joseph Masungenshu, and Joris Manzi|
P.O. Box 189
Schererville, IN 46375
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Thanks for sharing with us in the privileges of citizenship in both this world and the one to come.
Mungu akubariki (May God bless you),