Perspective on Poverty - Speed of Life
This perspective on poverty was written by a man living in Indonesia. He brings a unique perspective on the poverty that much of the world experiences.
One of life’s greatest pleasures is speed, and my son can’t seem to get enough of it. He madly peddles his bicycle down hills at the highest velocity possible. He loves that feeling of going over the edge in roller coasters. When hearing that the space shuttle orbits the earth at 18,000 miles per hour, he predictably decided he wants to become an astronaut. He probably gets his speed-lust from me. A few years back, our organization was entrusted with a motor boat that doesn’t quite blast through the water as fast as the space shuttle knifes through space, but it comes close. Equipped with 250 snorting stallions worth of outboard power, it is used to haul supplies to teachers serving in some very hard-to-reach villages, to transport a drill for digging wells, and to explore rivers that slither for hundreds of miles through the dense jungle.
One can churn along these rivers for the better part of a day before coming across some of the remotest villages on earth. It’s a surreal experience to roar around a bend with the wind whipping one’s face, spot a village, then spend a few days at the speed of cold honey. Out there, no one ever has appointments, keeps calendars, owns clocks, or even has electricity. Entire days can be spent watching the river float past. Slowing down to that pace of life for a few days can give me whip lash, but I suppose it’s healthy for my soul.
Far more difficult than enduring the sluggish pace of life out there is being confronted by the razor sharp talons of poverty. Regardless of the noble idealism that is sometimes associated with poverty, there is nothing grandiose or enviable about it. Malaria and hepatitis wreak havoc on these villages. Most of the people don’t have clean water, nor do they understand the need to boil water before drinking it. In one of the areas where one of our teams has opened a Christian school and church, nine toddlers have drowned in recent memory. Malnutrition is visibly evident in many children, and most of them have worms. Life expectancy is much shorter than for people living in cities, where medicine and health clinics are more readily available. Tuberculosis epidemics can wipe out entire clans. I see far more birth defects and cases of leprosy in these villages than in cities. Teeth are rotting and falling out of their mouths. Fear of evil spirits and demon possession are a normal part of life. Few adults can read or write.
Come with me into a nearby village. Can you see those children perched on that roughly hewn, wooden porch? Notice that they don’t seem to have any comics, bikes, Lego bricks, Play Stations or Frisbees. That’s to be expected here. Now let’s move a few steps closer. It’s wet season, so be careful. You will need to take off your shoes and slog through the mud. With every step, your toes will squish in garbage and human waste that’s been haphazardly dropped into the muck. Go ahead, climb onto that porch, muddy feet and all. Sit down with them, if you can stand the stench. It’ll take a minute for them to get over their fear of you. Don’t mind the flies, even the ones crawling around on their lips and eyelashes.
Tell me, what do you see in their eyes? To the amazement of some who might come to places like this, most of these children are really doing just fine, thanks. They’re content. Feel free to ask them to tell you about their dreams, but don’t be surprised at the confused expressions on their faces. It has never even crossed most of their minds that they might either want to escape this place or somehow make it healthier, cleaner, prettier, or safer. This little world is like their day at the office. It is their daily grind. You might be wondering, “Why don’t they at least clear away some of the garbage under their feet? Hmm…they don’t even seem to see it!” They have no idea how deeply they are embedded in poverty. They feel at home in a condition that we would consider sub-human.
Perspective on Poverty - Very Different Realities
How can two people, both having 20/20 vision, look in precisely the same direction and yet see such different realities, two perspectives on poverty. The dissonance is so awkward. I sometimes even feel a twinge of guilt. I am no smarter than them, and I am certainly not better!
Ah, but there is at least one difference between us.
I have walked through Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. I’ve driven a car through the Canadian Rockies in July. I’ve gone to the fridge for a glass of clean, pure water. I’ve rushed my children to the hospital when they were mysteriously ill. I’ve slept in a bed. I’ve experienced what it feels like for God to set me free from the inside out. I’ve seen God breathe new life into my marriage when my wife and I were struggling and feeling hopeless. These memories remain in me, and they are a part of my consciousness. In this place, they rise within me, stirring me with hope. Images of God’s grace are embedded deep inside my imagination, and in yours.
An untrained imagination can be blown by the unpredictable winds of emotion, making wreckage out of a person’s life. As children, our imaginations caused fear of monsters in our closets. Even now, we sometimes hear imaginary thieves creeping around in our houses at night. We can so easily conjure up enemies at the office and misread the motives of others. Our imaginations can be wasted away in empty fantasies. For this reason, many of us rarely discuss the imagination. Yes, our imaginations can be dangerous. Yet why has God designed us with this mysterious ability to close our eyes and see what is not really there? Does imagination play any role in responding to the lot we find ourselves in? Does an activated imagination affect whether we can rise up and break through our own muddy conditions of slavery and paralysis?
Out here in this rancid mud with mosquitoes pillaging our ankles, we might feel like “aliens and strangers.” Why do we feel so out of place? Could it be that imagery and metaphors of God’s grace are so deeply lodged in our imaginations, that they create an internal dissonance? Yes, and these images are constant reminders that other, never before seen possibilities exist for this village. It’s not hard at all for us to imagine this village transformed into a paradise. Can you see these same children in a garden? They are playing near that cluster of bright yellow flowers. Laughing with delight, their voices ring out over the grass, “… duck … duck … goose!” It’s a blue sky day. Oh, their lunches are ready. Their mom’s voice is heard calling them from beyond the pond.
Listen to the Spirit of God hovering over these filthy children. His imagination is ablaze, and he’s whispering, “I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put into the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it” (Isaiah 41:18-20).
Now, open your eyes once again to the scene before you. Smell the rancid garbage in this mud. Disgusting! In this sublime moment of dissonance, cedars and acacia, olives and pines rise in defiant revolt against the wasteland of what now is. This dissonance between our ideals and our present reality is what sparks the creative process and moves God’s own warriors of faith into action. What might happen if you dare to imagine problems being solved, marriages being healed, churches exploding with growth, the poor being served, beggar children on the streets being rescued, and neighbors being loved into the kingdom of God. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, we must flood our imaginations with images of truth, nobility, righteousness, purity, loveliness, admirable qualities and excellence (Philippians 4:8). When I dare to meditate on these things, I rarely sleep well, and neither will you. But be assured. A bold imagination is vital to accelerating our lives into higher levels of creativity, and launching static faith into motion.
Perspective on Poverty - Making it Personal
Could it be possible that when God hovers over your life, his imagination is filled with images of your destiny? Is it possible that his heart is moved as he looks at you? Perhaps we are all like the muddy faced children wallowing in our own slimy mud. Maybe we are the ones who find it difficult to imagine the possibilities that God holds out for us. So many couples are resigning themselves to dull, moribund marriages, when God has created us to thrive in radiant, joyful, loving, fulfilling, and intimate marriages. What prevents us from taking action, rising up and creating in response to the possibilities? Could it have something to do with our lack of imagination? Paul wrote that “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
Yes, Lord, we all so desperately need an infusion of Your imagination!
Have you ever been caught by the mind of Christ, even for a moment? Perhaps you were passing a humdrum afternoon at the office, going through a pile of reports, when you were suddenly stirred by an image of something so beautiful, something that captured your heart so deeply and profoundly that yesterday’s standard of beauty suddenly felt hideously grotesque? Something within us whispers, “God, is this really how you created me to live? I know you created me for more than this!” Longing for a greater purpose and deeper meaning, we have no choice but to rise from our office chairs and go stand by the window and gaze at the smog hovering over the city for a few minutes. There must be something more out there. Moments like this are close encounters with the Creator. They are catalysts of his dreams being infused into our future. Perhaps even now he hovers above you. Feel the breath of his Spirit on the back of your neck. Buckle your seatbelt and hang on for dear life. If you’re looking for a special way to help children in poverty, please consider a monthly commitment to sponsor a child through our friends at Compassion International.
He is calling you into your destiny.