Poverty is a difficult concept for us in North America. Even though we are in the midst of an economic recession, depression, whatever you want to call it, we still live in some of the wealthiest countries on earth at one of the wealthiest times in history. Poverty, true poverty, is difficult to understand because we just don't see it.
We want to draw lines and redefine terms because we, as a people, as a nation, don't want to say that we don't have poverty. You can quote me statistics about the number of people living below the poverty line, you can call me insensitive about your situation, but there are virtually no impoverished living in the North America!
People struggling, YES; people just barely making it, YES, but in poverty, NO!
- What does “poverty” look like in the states?
- Virtually all those living in “poverty” have a refrigerator, a stove, and the vast majority have a microwave.
- Almost all have a television, 97%, and about 2/3's of those living in “poverty” have more than one television.
- Almost 80% of those in “poverty” have air conditioning and over 60% have a clothes washer, cable TV, at least one DVD player.
- Over half of those in “poverty” have a cell phone and almost 1/3 have a video game system and slightly more than that have a computer.
Our “impoverished” count among the wealthiest in the world!
OK, I know there may be some questioning the validity of those stats because, for sure, The Heritage Foundation is a bit on the conservative side, who cares that the information is taken from census data, right? However, in the interest of fairness and for those skeptics in the crowd here are some statistics from the US government.
9% of those living in the US experienced what is termed low food security,
“These food-insecure households obtained enough food to avoid substantially disrupting their eating patterns or reducing food intake by using a variety of coping strategies, such as eating less varied diets, participating in Federal food assistance programs, or getting emergency food from community food pantries.”
5% of those living in the US experienced what is termed very low food security,
“In these food-insecure households, normal eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake was reduced at times during the year because they had insufficient money or other resources for food. In reports prior to 2006, these households were described as “food insecure with hunger.”
So, at times, 9% of our poor have to eat less or ask for some help to eat, and 5% of our poor have to skip a meal. Only 5%! Now, lets assume that those going abroad to serve the impoverished of the world come from the other 86% that are not experiencing low or very low food security, they have no context for what is poverty. Not only do our poor have food, access to medical care, an education, clean water and a wide array of governmental programs to help them, they also have things: TV's, DVD players, video games, cell phones, air conditioning.
We see poverty everywhere because we experience poverty nowhere!
Look, he is riding the bus, POVERTY! Over there, he is wearing used clothes from the states, POVERTY! Hey, the houses are ugly, there are potholes in the streets, there are dirt roads, that person has a dirt floor, POVERTY! They eat rice and beans every day, POVERTY!
El Chupacabra, you self-righteous a-hole, if we want to go into some developing nation and throw 'em a bone, even if its not poverty, what harm could that cause?
I know a long time missionary that was working with a national pastor. The area where the pastor lived was rural and the kids, including the pastors kids, did not have shoes. The missionary, thinking of a way to bless the pastor, buys the kids shoes. Those kids, feeling special, feeling blessed by this man of God, start to belittle their shoeless friends. Obviously God didn't love them, obviously they did something wrong because if they were living right, living for God, they would have shoes!
Missions should be about passing on Jesus, and NOT about providing economic support. Can those in poverty know Jesus, YES! Can those in poverty be followers, true followers of Christ, YES! Can those in poverty lead others to Jesus, YES!
If you feel compelled to work with those in poverty, do it, but please don't equate receiving economic or developmental aid with receiving salvation, and yes it really happens. We should never make listening to a sermon, going to church, sitting through a gospel presentation the condition for receiving help!
Have you ever seen or experienced poverty, true poverty? Has your standard of living ever shaped your view of a country, a place, or a group of people? Have you ever seen people damaged by people offering help in exchange for Jesus?