Posted by: janpierce | December 7, 2007

What It Means To Be Poor

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE POOR by Jan Pierce    I took my second trip to India this past June and July.  This time I made some small progress in the fight against culture shock.  The crazy traffic didn’t surprise me quite as much, I saw familiar sights and stayed in familiar places part of the time.  I remembered the crowds of people with their colorful clothing and was able to look at the same heart-rending sights of beggar children, garbage-strewn streets and deplorable living conditions with, if not acceptance, at least less shock and disbelief. This time I was able to focus more on the people themselves and not so much on their conditions of poverty.     On the first trip there were times when I absolutely could not make sense of what my eyes were seeing.  I remember visiting the village of Tharigopula where K.M. and Jayamani’s widows’ home is located.  They proudly showed me a building where they used to live and where a pastor now is living with his family.  There were two rooms with four walls and a floor made of stone.  There was absolutely nothing in the rooms.  My astute comment was, “They don’t have any furniture.”  Jayamani agreed.  The cooking area was out the back door and so was a latrine.  And another time on that first trip we were taken to a slum where a young pastor lives with his three children.  We were taken to his home made up of an entryway about 3’ by 3’ where the cooking is done and then a living room-bedroom big enough for a double bed and nothing else.  There were shelves built into the wall for dishes and a tiny T.V. on top of a small cabinet.  I remember stupidly asking, “Where do the children sleep?” and knowing as the words came out of my mouth that I was already looking at it.  The truth is that most of the poor in India have no possessions as we think of them except for a few cooking utensils, perhaps a few spices and food items and a small amount of clothing.  Some have a bed.   I have been asking myself in light of what I have seen in India what it means to be poor.  In the physical world, by definition, the rich have a lot and the poor have little.  Can you imagine getting a call from the ARC of Clark County and having to say that you honestly don’t have one thing to give them?  We measure our relative worth by measuring our possessions against that of another.  Thus some of us at Grace and Glory are “richer” than others.  But are we really?  Does all the “stuff” that we would like to get rid of make us richer?  If I have a T.V. in the family room and in the living room am I one up on somebody owning only one?  I once read an article by a minimalist who was thinking of giving away one of her four items of clothing because she had decided she really wasn’t wearing it much.  I remember taking off with our little family cross country from Salem, OR to Harrisonburg, VA with only a tiny U-Haul attached to our car and feeling wonderfully free of worldly possessions.  I do, however, understand that money can buy convenience and comfort.  Both of those things are in short supply among the poor of India.  I don’t like having mice in my hotel room and I don’t like the weather being too hot.  I like being comfortable.  Indian people who host westerners are aware of our low tolerance for discomfort and they try very hard to give us the things we are used to at their own expense.  I am sure if the tables were turned we might resent having to satisfy the needs of “rich” people demanding better than we have ourselves.    Moving on to the spiritual realm we know that having material wealth is no guarantee of a healthy relationship with the living God.  In fact, we have many reasons to argue that all those possessions get in the way. (The rich young ruler)  Proverbs 22 says “The rich and the poor have a common bond, the Lord is the maker of them all.”  And that is what I was able to focus on during this trip.  While there we took part in a wonderful, joyous wedding.  At the end of the trip we sat with mourners as they wept for the loss of the father of the family.  We ate and laughed and worshiped with real people not “poor” people.  I was able to focus on the character and the godliness of our friends there rather than on how much they own or how much they need.  That is not to say that the needs are insignificant.  I will be doing all I can to provide the things the Lord has laid on my heart to give, but I am sharing with real people, not helpless, nameless victims.  One of my favorite Christian authors, Henri Nouwen said, “Where our poverty is – that is where God wants to dwell.  Our blessing is hidden in our poverty.”  And I see the truth in that.  As I reach out to God for the things I am lacking, both physically and spiritually, that is where He can minister to me and fill my need.  Are you poor?  Are you rich?  Praise God, the answer is yes to both.

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