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What does poverty look like?

I have never really understood how poverty can have tiers but I am beginning to think that it does. From the dirt roads I have driven down in South Africa, Rwanda and Ethiopia it looks similar; smaller children with no clothes, most people with no shoes. You can hear the laughter of children playing with tires or other scraps that will entertain them for hours. The children line the streets as you drive by and yell two words in english, “Hello” and “Money”. These very different dirt roads look very similar in my limited experience. In the city, away from the dirt roads, the poverty still exists though. It shows up as beggars on the street corners and people selling items of no value in the market. People are considered to have money and not be completely impoverished if they drive a “bajaj” or sell bottled water or soda for a living. And what about the children here on the compound where I am staying? The world would label them as orphans however they are not worried about where their next meal is coming from and experience laughter throughout the day.

The poverty found in the city looks different from down the dirt road and the people living on both sides of the line would tell you their lives are extremely different from one another. Yet you call both sides poverty. But what gets me every time when I experience true poverty is I also experience true sacrificial giving. I will never forget the time in South Africa we spent a day mudding a hut for a family who likely had to repeat the process the next day and we got an “experience” out of it, makes me shiver to think about it now. However, we had bought a few sacks of groceries for this family and they made us drinks and food and wanted to worship with us. They wanted to try and give us all that they could when we sat inside their homes and we knew they had no worldly possessions. This same story is ever present in Ethiopia. After not having been here a week I have experienced people giving of their time, energy and most of all their worldly possessions. In the village where we traveled for clinic the pastor’s family made us beans and coffee during our lunch break. We were sitting in their home on wooden benches surrounded my mud walls and yet they wanted to provide for us.

When you step into the realm of poverty you can easily begin to feel guilty, but it allows you to remember the blessings the Lord has bestowed on you. If you are reading this it means you are educated and have access to a computer. You have more material wealth than all of the people I have encountered over the last 6 days. I say that not to cause you to sit in guilt but to praise the Lord for what you do have, then turn around and bless someone else who is in need. Deuteronomy 10:18 says “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving him food and clothing.” The triune God tells us to love the least of these and help provide for them when we have been provided for. May we all not take this command lightly, but choose to love those cast out by society. May we choose to love the ones the world would deem unlovable. May we provide shelter or food for the displaced among us. And for the man I saw this week who likely has spinal TB and can no longer walk by himself, meaning he can no longer provide for his wife and three children; pray that medications would work quickly and the Father would be about His healing work.

May we all continue to seek the truth that Lewis writes about and continue this journey “further up and further in”.

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