What does poverty look like?
Pallam Slum, Chennai by jcandeli. Shared under a Creative Commons License.
Well, it looks like this. Obviously.
It’s pretty easy to look at this picture–a half-clothed kid standing in the middle of a trash heap in the slums of India–and see that there are needs to be met in his life. Let’s start with the fact that he’s living on top of a pile of garbage and go from there…
Photos like that prompt us to sponsor kids in foreign lands through Compassion or other noteworthy Christian aid organizations. Those images make us feel shameful for living in the land of plenty, for being able to drink water from the tap without fearing for our lives or for wasting the crust on our PBJ sandwiches.
(Just for the record, I am a crust-eater.) 😉
Here’s the hard part: Do we see the needs of the people right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.? In our hometown? Down the block? In our churches?
Maybe you’re like me. I grew up hearing a lot of talk about the lazy, the swindlers, the “taking-advantage-of-the-government” types and the people who “waste their money on drugs and alcohol.” I’m no fool–I know those people exist–but how do I know who they are?
Can I look at a person and say, “Oh yeah… he’s a druggie. She’s just wanting to get knocked up for the sixth time so she can get a bigger check from Uncle Sam. That kid can’t be poor–he’s too fat!” (Because, you know… poor = skinny, right?) <–That’s sarcasm, in case you aren’t as fluent in the language as I am. 😉
Let’s face it…we all play judge and jury to some extent. I feel like we have less empathy to fellow Americans because there are so many ways a person CAN get help, through organizations, churches, the government, etc.
Are we snobbish about the needy? Are we more willing to cut slack to a poor man in Ghana than a poor man in Georgia? Do we consider the poor in Tanzania more deserving of help than the poor in Texas? Tough questions. I think the answer sometimes is “Yes.”
My church is starting a partnership with our regional food bank. We are purchasing units of food to be given out in our community for those households who meet certain income guidelines. Today, I spent two hours helping register people. We can only provide a maximum of 75 units of food in our community (that’s 225 boxes of food–they are limited in their truck space)…and after two hours, we were completely full. There are an overwhelming amount of needs in our little town.
These weren’t skin-and-bone people with sunken cheeks.
They weren’t dressed in rags.
They weren’t dirty.
They weren’t stupid.
Most of them weren’t even taking much government aid.
They are just trying their best to get by.
I’m still trying to figure out how a person provides basic needs of a family of four on $500/month when 1/4th is probably spent on an eletrical bill alone. I also can’t imagine being let go from my job and not having any source of income on the horizon while trying to care for a grandchild. Those were just a couple of stories that came through my line today.
I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from helping in the Third World. I personally feel a special desire to help children in third world countries because a dollar can go so much farther there than in the United States. But I’ve just been wondering…is it easy to overlook our neighbors at home?
What would you have done if you would have seen this guy on the street corner with a cardboard sign?
Copyright Columbus Dispatch
I’ll be honest. My thoughts would have been part pity, part disgust. Oh–and I would have probably assumed that he was a drug addict.
Turns out, he’s used to be a drug addict, but he’s been sober for over two years. Breaking an addiction is hard enough without turning back to it when you’re living a hard life on the streets. That alone is a pretty incredible story. It also turns out that his journey led him to a relationship with God and–even before all the media frenzy–he had an awesome testimony of redemption. Basically, he was a guy who messed up his life, but was wanting to get back on track.
But I would have missed all that. I would have been too busy judging.
Lesson of the day: we’ve got plenty of Matthew 25-ing to do right here at home. I pray that God will open my eyes, and the eyes of other Americans, to the needs around us without being judgemental. Poverty wears many different faces and it’s sometimes hard to recognize.
There’s always more than meets the eye. Ted knows.