Too good to be true?
I’ve been visiting Haiti with Compassion International, with a team from the UK. We’ve been doing some filming and I’ve had the chance to meet the child my family sponsors (Emerson), and his mother. It’s been impacting. As you might imagine they come from extreme poverty. They are not alone. In this country most of the people, over 50% of them under the age of 24, live in extreme poverty. This means that they don’t have enough to live. For Jasmine, Emerson’s mom, it meant she couldn’t find clean water and/or feed her children. She lived a 6 hour walk (the only way to get there), from the closest city centre. What little her town had was destroyed by the earthquake that rocked a nation already battling the hardships of economic poverty.
One day she heard about a church, with a program that helps children like Emerson. She thought the news was too good to be true. But she walked 6 hours to see the church and ask the pastor anyway. She found out it was true indeed. She registered Emerson for sponsorship.
Right around that time, my family decided to sponsor a child in Haiti and Emerson was on the top of the list - our sponsorship made it possible for Jasmine to move to the city with some family and enroll Emerson in school, get food, and some medical attention. Now he is in a program designed for empowering children from poverty to freedom (inside and out). It’s a mixture of gospel, life-skills, leadership development, and community. Now, Jasmine is dreaming of a different future for Emerson, her family, and the entire nation.
The whole thing sounds like an advert doesn’t it? Too neat. Too tidy.
Too good to be true. And this is the thing.
In ‘our western’ side of the world we battle with a different kind of oppression. It’s poverty inverted. It’s extreme wealth. We battle the temptation to believe there is nothing we can do to change the reality of people living in poverty. We hear the idea that our money or contribution isn’t enough, that programs don’t work and won’t work and we resign ourselves to living in a unjust world where we throw out our food while others die without any. We hear reports of charities that waste ‘our’ money and think poor people shouldn’t get ‘handouts’ if they won’t ‘work for change’ themselves. We secretly believe they should stop reproducing and although we feel pity we don’t feel any sense of partnership. We honestly hope people would stop asking - it would make our lives so much easier if we just ignored the tension and injustice of extreme poverty in our world when we believe, deep down, that there is nothing we can do.
I can’t stand this cycle. I feel like poverty is a pimp who robs all of us of legitimate choices, whittling away our capacity to dream and contribute to a different world. The real story of oppression is that both of our worlds are messed up. All of us need to change.
We need to listen to the Spirit inviting us into a new way of life. A life that listens, and feels, and joins in. A life that does what it can with what it has. An open handed life. A life of hope and possibility. A life that can see the Kingdom here now and the Kingdom coming still.
The truth, if we care to listen, is that extreme poverty can be beaten. Freedom is possible. Change comes like spring, small but inevitable. And the invitation is wide open for us to join in.
I know, I know, it’s not enough. One child sponsored is not enough to break the back of poverty. I know. But it’s a start - a solid one for Emerson and his mom and the church in his neighborhood. It’s also a decent entry point for me and my family. It’s a way to begin to live another way. It’s the door into teaching my children how Jesus responds to the poor and how to follow Him means we do the same. It’s the means to help re-evaluating how I live and why it matters. It’s a path that leads to justice, if we keep walking.
It’s a way of entering into partnership - the kind of partnership when the haves and the have-nots get together and make it possible for the Apostle Paul to say that it no longer matters from which we come, but that we are now ‘ one in Christ’ - which is the making of ‘heaven on earth’.
Too good to be true?
No matter how far you have to journey to find out. You should make the trip. You may just discover, like Emerson’s mom, that it’s true indeed.