We recently traveled back to the Philippines for a few weeks. Walking down the streets and through the slums, the sights took time to process again. No matter how many times I see poverty and the suffering that is a result, my mind recoils and a shock wave courses through me. The feelings are compounded when these conditions involve people that I care about.
I’m trying to be more positive overall. My daughter, Sarah, told me recently that we (her & I) need to fight for joy in our lives. That in part is what starting this blog was all about; to contemplate the beauty found in the broken. However, I am currently having a hard time coming up with a positive spin. Therefore, I must add a disclaimer here.
This post is rather bleak. My thoughts are whirring and my heart is heavy as I write this post. I feel somewhat like an overblown balloon. If I don’t let out some of the air, if I don’t write these words down, I’ll pop.
Poverty provides scenes that are similarly horrible no matter where in the world they are encountered. At times, conditions are so severe they take our breath away. The shock of it is evidence that poverty simply should not exist. We automatically recoil from things we know are wrong. Of course, there are many reasons for poverty in a place, I’ve read and contemplated most all of them over the years. I don’t want to become callous to the causes of poverty. However, as I walk along life and look into the eyes of those who are affected, it doesn’t really matter too much. We can waste significant time arguing over the causes, and not enough time fighting the conditions.
Poverty is like a ravenous beast, creating the worst kind of human suffering; it’s primal. No matter where it lives, the beast feeds on the misery of innocent souls.
A barefoot child roams the streets desperately looking for scraps of food to fill his empty belly. He stands along the street as we walk by, looking longingly at the food vendors on the sidewalk. He makes a motion with his hand to his mouth. He is hungry. Do we see him?
1 billion children worldwide are living in poverty.
A woman with haunted eyes needs to make horrific decisions to feed herself and her children. The desperation of brutal poverty propels her into situations she would never have imagined being in. What will she need to do to survive?
A man stumbles home having drunk too much so he can escape the crushing responsibility he carries for his family that he simply cannot provide. Will he stay and fight for them or simply walk away?
Nearly 1/2 of the world’s population, more than 3 billion people, live on less than $2.50 a day.
More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty, less than $1.25 a day.
An elderly homeless woman dressed in rags shuffles down the street with her head bent to the ground gathering cardboard boxes to recycle. Will she be able to collect enough each day to eat and where will she sleep safely at night?
805 million people worldwide do not have enough food to eat.
A child is abandoned by the side of the road by a family who can’t afford to keep her. Will she survive? Will she ever know love?
According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.
Bouncing between worlds where poverty abounds and where opulence lives can be dizzying. That’s my life. I am one of the “privileged” ones in this world. I can choose to travel in and out of places where human suffering caused by poverty occurs and then jet back to my safe-haven. Through the years, as I’ve talked to other privileged ones about the horrors of poverty-induced human suffering, I’ve received much understanding and sincere desires to help. Sadly, I have also received coldness.
We should never grow cold! Though it truly hurts, we shouldn’t look away. We should never stop being shocked and saddened. We first become broken-hearted, then allow that feeling to propel us forward each day looking for ways to help relieve human suffering.
In Matthew 14:14, Jesus looked out over the crowd of people who were following him and “He had compassion on them…” The Greek word used for compassion here is splanchnizomai. Splanchnology is a study of the gut. “When Matthew writes that Jesus had compassion on the people, he is not saying that Jesus felt casual pity for them. No, the term is far more graphic. Matthew is saying that Jesus felt their hurt in his gut.” (From In the Eye of the Storm: a Day in the Life of Jesus by Max Lucado)
Jesus didn’t stop there. He “felt their hurt in his gut” and then was moved to action. He healed the sick and fed the crowd. (Matthew 14:14-21)
Could we ever truly destroy the beast? This is a question I’ve asked myself more times than I can count. I long for the day when there will be no more suffering. An end to human suffering caused by poverty would be a dream come true. I know this dream is shared by many others who I’ve met along the way on my journey. People who I respect and admire; who won’t forget what they have seen and are determined to respond “with their gut.”
Let us all find ways to help kill the beast!
“So long as we eat our bread together, we shall have sufficient even for the least. Not until one person desires to keep his own bread for himself does hunger ensue.” (Dietrich Bonhoffer)