Friday, June 15, 2012

What is Poverty?

When I was in Ethiopia, I saw poverty.

I was stunned...almost breathless at the living conditions I saw right before my eyes.  Shacks, no more like huts, qualified as homes.  And these huts looked like something our children would build in the backyard.  A good stiff wind could easily blow these over.

They were stacked right against each other...thousands of them.

The ground was dirt and running streams of waste meandered through the make-shift village.

I saw men cutting acres and acres of grass with a hand scythe.  The just sat there, cutting the grass by hand...literally.

I saw children covered in filth.  Little clothing and covered in days of grime and dirt.  They played in and around this make-shift village.

I saw people LIVING off a trash heap.

Mothers digging through trash to feed their children.  And children playing on the trash.

Now..I serve women and children in poverty in the United States.

I am surprised by the difference...

My moms all have insurance.  Each mom has said yes to Medicaid.

I walk into their houses and see groceries everywhere.  True, there are usually half-eaten granola bars strewn about the house and umpteen goldfish crackers spread out across the kitchen table, but there IS food.

And...each and every mom I am working with has a cell phone.
Which brings me to my point...something I am wrestling with daily, maybe even hourly right now.  What IS poverty?  Is it a lack of material goods?  Is it lacking resources? 

What I have found in the last week or so that poverty is sometimes a state of mind.  Some of these moms are in bad relationships...and their state of mind KEEPS them there.  Some of these moms are jobless...and their state of mind KEEPS them at home day after day, not looking for work.  Some of these moms are addicted to drugs...and their state of mind KEEPS them going after the quick fix. 

So simply giving these moms clothing or groceries is NOT an effective way to serve love them.

I am slowly working my way through When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  I say slowly because there is so much depth of thought here that I need...I must...slowly ingest their ideas one by one and cover them with prayer.  They say that "poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation:  moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation."

Moving people to change their state of mind....a mind set that will want to glorify God. 

Do you realize how difficult and challenging this is? 

If I could solve all these moms' problems by simply handing out diapers and formula, or gift cards to a grocery store....I would be thrilled!  But the reality is...that NEVER happens.  I can give a mom six cans of formula, telling her this will tide her over until the next paycheck....and two weeks later, she is back in the line waiting for more formula, hasn't looked for a job, spent her money on cigarettes and now asking for some more stuff, "I could really use some diapers and wipes."

I often think of what ministry would look like in a Third World Country...I would feed moms and children and through that ministry, lives would be changed because they truly are starving!  Are the poor in America truly starving?  Or have they chosen to purchase other things before food?  Paying their cell phone bill...buying cigarettes because they just can't break the habit...purchasing a cool new t-shirt.  So, I "feed" them and there really is no change.  My hand-outs do not result in someone glorifying the Lord.

I think what I am getting to is that this life of ministry work with the poor in America is NOT easy, NOT glamorous, and NOT quick.  This is going to be a SLOW process...and at the end of the year, I may have ONE or TWO moms who have truly begun the work of reconciliation. 

And that should be my focus.  Not that SC numbers show that Safe Families has kicked butt their first year...but instead that a few lives have truly been changed. 

I am overwhelmed with the charge that God has given me.  I often wish for this life to go-away.  I want to adopt again and go back to not seeing or hearing or knowing the poor.  But...I have seen and heard and known...and so I can't go back. 

I know God's heart breaks over their brokenness.  And so, I continue to serve and love with the prayer that these women will come to know the Lord and want to live lives that bring Him glory.

1 comment:

ESolgos said...

I think you are so right about this. I was so conflicted after reading When Helping Hurts. The danger of that book is that it almost leaves the impression that it is too hard to do what it takes to really help, so I'll do nothing. One year after reading the book, I think, I may not always help effectively, but I helped out of love, and that is good enough.