What does poverty mean? One of the basic questions, posed to us in our required reading for this trip (When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert) and it has my mind working through ideas that I am not ready for…things that my heart doesn’t want to confront.
My initial answer is this: not being able to nourish your physical body and a lack of the ability to provide for (feed, wash, clothe, shelter) one’s self or dependents. The author asks us to consider some notations from a large research project that asked homeless people directly about the difficulty of their situations. Their responses detailed their feelings of shame, humiliation, a lack of human connection, of not being heard, and of being cut off from community. This small window into their lives allowed me to recognized that I had described a physical, logistical and material poverty while they identified a deeper emotional and philosophical need. The author asks us to consider that poverty goes beyond the material; that it is actually a brokenness of relationships. A brokenness of foundational relationships; a brokenness in our relationship to our Creator, to ourselves, to others, or to the rest of creation.
If poverty is rooted in the brokenness of relationships, then . . . who are the poor?
This next question allows me to consider this: are we all impoverished? Do I suffer from relational or spiritual poverty? Yes. I know that I do . . . do I look to the poor and believe I am not one of them? I do. Relative to others, I have an abundance of the material, but is their poverty in being economically rich? What does it look like?
We try to help based on our own limited understanding of poverty, but here I learn that it is imperative to step backward to consider the reach of poverty. If we are all suffering from poverty of some form, and I believe that we are indeed suffering from relational brokenness even if we cannot identify it, then the idea of humanitarian work moves from a mindset that we are the well helping the unwell to a whole new way: the unwell and the unwell connecting with each other with compassion. While I have been believing that I was qualified to come here to this place and offer help based on my own material abundance but I have missed something. I also have a deep need for brokenness in my foundational relationships to be restored. I will not be able to truly help anyone until I understand that I am in need of relief from relational brokenness too. I am not okay, you are not okay, but God can help us both. In just two days, the truth of this is made real to me in each interaction I have here.
There is a joy in these people that I have seen but not felt. The incredible level of their reliance on God for their every need, and the joy they express in doing so is astounding. I pray, I place my cares at the foot of the cross. But because I have the means to do otherwise, I often believe that I am the one who solves my worries, that I have worked for what I have rather then seeing that everything I have has been given to me. There is a freedom here, in this place of thought and knowledge that I am desperate to know more deeply.