Blog Action Day - Poverty

I guess I got to the party a little late, but I only found our yesterday about Blog Action Day. This is a day where bloggers from all over agree to write about one topic, and try to make a difference. This time, the topic is poverty.

Poverty is (unfortunately) a relative concept. It took me a long time to realize that. I live in a part of the country where there is little true poverty. Yes, there are homeless people here in Connecticut. Yes, there are hungry children. Yes, there are many people who have to choose some nights between eating and heat. I'm not saying it doesn't exist, because it does.

But many americans have the wrong idea that povery means someone has no car, or can only afford a pay-as-you-go cellphone, or only has basic cable. Many people below the poverty line live decent lives compared to other places in the world. This is not to say they do not struggle, they do not suffer - because I know they do. One of the things that marks true poverty here in the U.S. is that there is little tolerance of it. "Get a job!" people, if they don't say it, think it. Many people do not understand the self-esteem issues that come with being poor, with being jobless, with not being able to support your family.

While there are people who enjoy being "one the dole," as they say in some places, most people - given the chance - would rather provide for themselves, feel productive, feel personal pride at being able to work, contribute and enjoy the fruits of labor.

Poverty really came into focus for me in 2004, when I made my first mission trip to Central America. We visited the tiny country of Belize for ten days. Not the Belize of tourbooks and Temptation Island - no we spent our time on the mainland, in the villages, in the towns and small churches. I met a family who live in a small town called Libertad. Their house was basically a lean-to. To be honest, they live outdoors. One little girl had a bad eye, practically hanging out. They couldn't even afford a bus trip into the city, forget the medical care.

We met a family of five that lived in a small thatch hut, about eight by twelve. One wood-frame bed. Cardboard boxes for inner walls. Not even an outhouse, forget running water or electricity. Once in a while, the neighbors would run an extension cord over so the kids could watch some TV. We brought this family some food - staples, actually. Bags of sugar, salt, flour, rice. When we saw that woman in a church service a few days later, you know what she had done? She had baked a cake for us!

The problem with poverty in places like Belize is that not everyone is poor. Thus, the poor get severely taken advantage of. The largest employer in Northern Belize is Belize Sugar Industries - BSI. Sugar cane farming is horrendously hard work. Cane is largely harvested by hand. Workers go into sugar fields (which have many poisonous snakes) and burn the cane. This is done to strip away the leaves, begin the refining process, and hopefully kill the snakes. Then they spend hours in the hot sun (100' F +) cutting with machetes. Then then load the cane by hand onto massive trucks. The cane is sharp - many times the shoulders, hands and side of the face get cut up badly. But miss a day of work, or work too slow, and someone will replace you, and then you have no work.

But with all the poverty there, many people still have a joy about them. And that proves an important point - that we are not defined by how much we have. In 2005, I was blessed to take a group of twelve youth (including my daughter) there to minister. I can tell you this - it was life-changing. Seeing what it really means to be without, seeing what poverty really means, yes seeing that not having does not have to crush the spirit of a person - that is a revelation.

God is friend to the friendless, father to the fatherless. He invites the thristy to come and drink, the hungry to come and eat, and those with no money to come and buy. How? By bringing true wealth to us - the wealth of knowing Him through Christ. These people - these poor, impovershed people - praise the Lord every day for what they have. It is truly amazing.

I would encourage everyone at some point in their lives to do mission work - whether it's here in the states, or somewhere abroad. But get out of the box, out of the comfort zone and change your point of view. And see what the "Joy of the Lord" really means. And then let God lead you to where you can help. Often, the best thing you can do is care about someone. Just show them that you care. I still get email and letters from Belize, and often they are heart-breaking. But often they make me cry in pride for how my family there (and that's what they are) get by.

It's one thing to fill out a card and send some money and think you're doing good. And you are, no doubt - those are good programs, many of them. But it does not compare to getting off your duff and getting out there. Trust me - it will change your life.


Popular Posts