Thoughts on poverty

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.

Table Ride

Here’s a quick, fun story for you.

Today we celebrated the anniversary of our neighborhood (Villa Cochabamba, in the city of Montero), so the teachers from the Institute and Kinder went and paraded by the main square (more on this in another post…?).  Anyway, afterwards the sister who runs both the Institute and Kinder (Sister Clara) took all the teachers out to lunch.  When we got to the restaurant, there weren’t any empty tables.  Luckily there was a stack of chairs and a spot under a tree in the courtyard.  So we all grabbed a chair and set up a circle and waited for our food.  I was assuming that we’d just take our plates and eat in our laps when out of the front door of the restaurant, I see a station wagon driving up and stopping with a large wooden table strapped to its roof.  I just assumed that someone had bought a table in the market and was taking it home (strapping large objects to the roof of a car isn’t uncommon here).  I jokingly said to Laura “wouldn’t it be funny if they were bringing us a table, if they were I’d definitely have to write about this on the blog.”  Then much to my amazement, a couple boys came in to the restaurant carrying the table, walked it over to our group, and set it down right in the middle of our circle! This wasn’t a small little folding table either, this was a big table, enough for 16 to eat around, and built out of solid wood too.

The only thing that I can think of is that when our group entered, the proprietor of the restaurant called up someone nearby with a table and said “Send it over, we’ve got a big group with nowhere to sit”…and low and behold it arrived.

Just another day in Bolivia.

P.S. Sorry there are no pictures…Laura went to take one but didn’t get it in time.

Super Smoky

With the end of the sugar cane season upon us, it seems like there are an especially large number of farmers burning their fields.  The air quality over the last few days here in Montero has been abysmal.  It isn’t a cloudy day, but this morning when I was out doing the laundry at 9:30, I could only see the sun as a somewhat diffuse glowing ball…kinda like it is moments before sunset.

Its also been very hot this week, which may have something to do with why the burning has gotten so bad.  Highs have been between 95-100F, which is about as hot as it gets in Bolivia, but thankfully it hasn’t been very humid.  Its still pretty rough dealing with that without air conditioning though!

Between the heat and the smoke, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in over a week…here’s to hoping for rain to clear things off!