The face of poverty

We see it every day—the Sally Struther’s child, sad and hungry on display in front of a television camera. ‘Feed the children’ they beg, ‘Their happiness depends on you.’ I have seen these children. I have seen children living in huts carved of mud, sticks, and dung—running barefoot in the dust of Kenyan lands. I have seen children carrying their own bowls around in the sashes of cloth they call clothing, their own bowls—for if they forget it—they do not eat their one meal of maize for the day. I have seen women walking blind—because of impurities in the waters…a blindness curable by a simple western pill. But I have seen something else. I have seen the faces of children who have nothing, and yet have a deep joy that I sometimes feel I lack. I have seen the poorest of children enjoy the simplest of life—nature, friendship, learning. I have seen poverty in a different light, for in poverty I have seen the face of Christ. The face that says, “I love you for being here.” The face that says, “Come back and come back often.” The face that says, “There is hope, there is care, and there is laughter among us.”

We talk often of the need to give when we speak of global poverty. And make no mistake, I believe in the power of giving. But I have learned a greater gift than even giving—it is the power of being in the presence of such poverty. In our western mentality, our hearts are drawn somehow to the power that money can solve all things. Where there is a need—we throw money at it and convince ourselves ‘we’re doing our part’. But there is a stronger power in the giving of one’s attention. “You will always have the poor among you,” Jesus says in John 12:8. But if we do not see the slums, we do not feel any obligations to the poor and more than this—we learn nothing from them.

I have learned from poverty stricken children, that less is more. I have learned from the hungry, that ‘all you can eat’ buffets are obscene. I have learned from barefooted children, that joy comes in relationship with friends and I have learned that toys, ipods, and video games are completely overrated. I have learned from women living in huts of mud and dung that the earth is sufficient for our needs, for the earth bows to our Creator.

“You will always have the poor among you,” Jesus says. I will feed the children. I will give my money as I usually do. But I have come to believe that perhaps their happiness does not depend on me after all, but rather—my happiness—my joy upon them.