It’s a big leap to go from having nothing to having something. There’s also a big difference between having something and having everything. True physical poverty is having nothing but few people in the world can be categorized as such. And since no one has everything except God, that leaves the rest of us somewhere on the spectrum in between nothing and everything. Physical richness is having more than nothing. Emotional richness is having something and knowing it. Spiritual richness is having nothing but thinking you have everything. Emotional poverty is having something but feeling like you have nothing. Spiritual poverty is being surrounded by everything and seeing nothing.
I see poverty everyday but it comes in different forms. At first glance many things in Bolivia looked quite developed and we thought “Oh this isn’t so bad, perhaps we should serve where there’s real poverty.” Then I began meeting children who have stepfathers that beat them or live with a relative because their parents have been in Spain for the last 5 years to work, broken families and broken people. Children who were abandoned, malnourished, mistreated, with no feeling of self-worth or knowledge of their own potential. Yes, there is a poverty here, but perhaps not so different from the poverty in many countries of the world, developed or not.
Then you look at pictures of the drought and famine in Somalia. Tragic, heart-wrenching scenes of dead children, ruined livelihoods, and people with nowhere to go. Despite the clear desperation that anyone would feel in that situation, stories surface of neighbors helping neighbors build their stick-shelters to keep out the wind. One woman came ahead to the refuge camp with her 5 children while her husband stayed behind to try to keep alive the few cattle they had left. She ran into an old neighbor who offered they could all stay with her and her children in her small hut until they found a hut of their own. Here we have a solid family, a generous neighbor among people so close to true physical poverty.
Another interesting aspect is people’s perception of other people’s poverty.
It is much easier to ask people to donate to relieve physical poverty. I don’t know about all the statistics in the video above, but I like it’s overall point that stimulation of the local economy is always more helpful to an area than donation of goods. And there may be a disconnect between perceived need and actual need. So much emphasis is put on relieving physical poverty but is that really the most important?
As a missionary I’ve come to realize that my duty here is not to relieve physical poverty but to help people discover their spiritual and emotional richness DESPITE the physical poverty.