What Does It Mean to Be “Poor?” – Part 2

From previous post:

Since we’ve moved here to Slovakia, we’ve had many conversations and read many books about poverty, and we’ve come to realize that we need to rethink what we mean when we say the word “poor.”  It’s true that in the U.S. we have a lot more stuff.  But I’m not so sure that’s as good a thing as we make it out to be.  

If I were to wake up one morning and find I’d switched places with one of the 3 billion people in the world who live on less than $2.50 a day, how would I fare?  How would any of us fare?  Take away our cars, our computers, our houses, our smartphones, our credit cards… take away those apples, and would we be able to survive on what’s left?

As we’ve learned, we’ve come to realize that WE are actually the ones who are poor in different ways:

Many of our friends here are much richer in their faith and their trust in God than we are. To put it bluntly, when you have a car, a computer, a house, a smartphone and a credit card to rely on, there’s not much need for faith in God.  We’ve met people who have a stronger tie to God simply because they don’t have so many other things to put their faith in.

In terms of faith, we’ve come to realize that we are the ones who are poor.

Perhaps for the same kinds of reasons, we’ve discovered that we’re poor in community.  In general, the more stuff we have, the more concerned we are with keeping and maintaining that stuff… and the less we need (or want) to rely on others for help in our day-to-day lives.  By comparison, some of the communities we’ve visited have a stronger sense of belonging and a joy of togetherness than we’ve experienced elsewhere.  Yes, they have conflicts, yes people take advantage of one another, and yes there are even people who are marginalized inside marginalized communities.  But generally, there is a sense of togetherness that we sometimes don’t understand.

In terms of community, we’ve come to realize that we are the ones who are poor.

Finally, many of us can attest that we are seldom content in life.  We cover it up in lots of ways – call it ambition, drive, upward mobility… But the sad fact is that – usually – the more stuff we have, the more stuff we want.  Some of our friends here (Roma and non-Roma) are the most contented and patient people we have ever met.  After one of my first mission trips many years ago, I made a statement similar to what many Americans say after spending time in an economically-depressed area: “They’re so poor, but they’re so happy!”  Maybe it’s because we’ve haven’t yet convinced them that they’re “poor.”  Maybe we want them to realize their material poverty, hoping that their response will help us be more content with all our stuff.  And maybe our constant discontentment is a sign of a deeper need within us that our friends here are helping us discover.

In terms of contentment, we’ve come to realize that we are the ones who are poor.

In a world that’s so riddled with different kinds of poverty, what will it look like for God’s kingdom to “come on earth as it is in heaven?”

2016-06-12 10.48.50With another team this summer, we visited in the home of some friends in a nearby Roma community.  The husband talked about his favorite times with his family – when they come together for celebrations.  Their family is large, and a gathering for a special event (like Christmas) can involve as many as 50 people. Most of their family members are barely getting by… So how can you feed a group that large?

“We come together and it just happens,” he told us.  Everyone brings what they can – each person makes a big dish that they are good at.  One family will bring a chicken dish, another dumplings, another various types of vegetables from their small garden.

“None of us has very much, but everyone brings what they can. So when we all come together to the table, we have a feast.”

I don’t have a scripture right now to point to, this is just sacred wondering… but it’s an idea I’ve read about in other places.  I wonder if in God’s kingdom, all of us share the wealth we have – we bring what we have to the table, and everyone has a feast.

2 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Be “Poor?” – Part 2

Add yours

  1. We Americans are blessed in so many ways. It is my realization sometimes that I have failed to thank God for abundant food, clothing, methods of transportation, and so much more. Unfortunately, taking my blessings for granted has become all too easy. I have to pray, “Create in me a pure heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Karen – I agree with you… though I would say that we have been “materially blessed,” though in these other areas maybe we aren’t so blessed. 🙂 I think our greatest – and most frequent – mistake in this area is failing to recognize that everything we have really belongs to God.

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