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One Christian's response to poverty
Poverty is much more complicated than just having no money. In our guest blog, Jane shares her reflections of the complexity of the issue, following her encounter with people much less well off.
“I worked in Africa with Tearfund, and have also visited India. I came face to face with poverty. In India the railway children really shocked me, living in such awful slums.
“My first reactions to poverty were mixed and hard to pinpoint. Firstly, horror that human beings could live in such a state. I perhaps hoped that in some way they were different and knew no better, so did not mind. Then I felt total helplessness, feeling that I could do nothing to change the situation. I felt like an outsider looking in, but not really comprehending all I saw. Added to all this was a feeling of guilt that by comparison, I am so rich.
“I wonder how you would react living with people who only had one good set of clothes that they wear with pride to church on Sundays? The rest of the week they wear a t-shirt full of holes and walk barefoot. This is not as a fashion statement - that's just all they have.
“I certainly felt quite guilty being part of the 'haves', living amongst the 'have-nots'. The statistics say one-third of the world's population uses up two-thirds of the world's resources. The fact is, you and I are part of that privileged third. It certainly is not fair, why do we have so much and they have so little? Do I have any responsibility towards others less well off?
“What is poverty? It's not just a shortage of money. Poverty is a web of inter-related circumstances that leaves the person feeling trapped and helpless to break out. Poverty is about people whose day-to-day struggle to survive leaves them with no energy, people who are voiceless in society, and who lack the power to make choices and so change their circumstances.
“I often felt frustrated that I was not able to do more to help. I would love to rush in with a magic wand and make their life easier. But would them having a Father Christmas figure really help them and their self-respect and dignity as children made in the image of God? Tearfund's motto is "Christian action WITH the world's poor", and that's what I had come to do - to work with Nigerians to empower and enable them to help themselves and their community.
“In the wet season, I had a system that collected rainwater off the roof of my house into a tank. If I was sparing with this, I could get through a large part of the dry season without having to collect water from the river. A good system, but what would I do if someone knocked on the door to ask for a drink of water? Easy. The Bible says give it to them. But what about 20 students each coming for a bucket of water - what would you do?
“I survived the isolation and poor living conditions by going every 6 weeks for a two-hour drive to the capital. I would visit the swimming pool at the Sheraton Hotel, where there were wonderful hot water showers and beautiful relaxing surroundings. But I lived with people who may never have been to the capital - was it wrong for me to go?
“Poverty is about lack of choice. Having come home I found the scope of choices that faced me each day overwhelming. I remember going to Boots to buy a toothbrush and coming away without one. Did I want nylon or bristles? Hard, medium or soft? What shape did I want? What colour?
“These experiences have changed my life. Now I live by a few simple questions. How can I help give a voice to the voiceless? How can I help give people the tools and skills to be able to change their situation? How can I enable local Christians to reach out in Jesus' name and tell the poor they are not forgotten, they are loved and precious to God?
“I learned that what people valued was to have time to listen and care for each other. I may be rich materially but what about the time I have for other people? I learned how much people valued time spent with them to bring their concerns and needs to God in prayer, a God who did literally give them their daily bread. In the Bible, Jesus reached out and touched the man with Leprosy (Luke 5:13). He got involved.
"The people I met in Africa were so thankful for the little they have, saying grace before meals to thank God for his care. But in the UK, where we have so much, do we ever stop in the rush of each day to thank God for all he has given us?"
You can find out more about the work of Tearfund here.
Are we happy with what we have or are we always wanting more? It's sometimes not a case of 'having what we want' but 'wanting what we have.'