Thursday, January 31, 2008

Looking Poverty in the Face

What happens when poverty has the face of a child?

It can mess you up.

But poverty is too big to have a face, isn't it? It’s an enormous, blurry, ugly reality … out there. Half the world’s six billion people live on less than $2 per day. Global poverty’s not a face, it’s a blur. We are left to feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by the sheer magnitude of it. What could we do anyway? The attempt to make a difference feels like we are emptying a pail of water in our hand. Anything caught is at best a proverbial drop in the bucket.

Something as big as global poverty can’t have a face of someone so small anyway, can it? Even if did, how would we recognize a face that doesn’t live in our neighborhood?

I met Marcello in rural central Ecuador the day before yesterday. I was there to see the work of Compassion International first hand. Marcello is a handsome, soft-spoken 12-year old boy. He lives with his four sisters and parents in a small two room, dirt-floor home. Most reading this blog may consider their humble home too rundown to use as an outdoor shed.

I was humbled by their hospitality and graciousness. Marcello’s mom and dad love their children and sacrifice daily for them. They are filled with hopes and dreams. In that way, they are not unlike any parents in our own neighborhoods.

They also love God and trust Him - for their very survival. Marcello and his family give a face to the oft preferred, easily ignored, vague blur of poverty. They give a godly face; faces you cannot ignore. When I look away from Marcello’s face, I look away from the face of God. Jesus said:

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40.

Jesus was talking about the hungry, the thirsty, and the imprisoned. He was talking about the poor. Jesus didn’t say “whatever you did for all these brothers and sisters of mine.” He said “whatever you did for one.” Poverty is addressed one life at a time, one Marcello at a time, one face at a time.

Facing poverty is at the heart of God because it is facing people made in His image. Perhaps the greatest form of poverty is the convenient attempts to see it as an ambiguous distant blur rather than the reality of people loved by God. Half the world lives on two dollars a day, and half the world is under the age of 16. Can there be a more compelling call for those set apart to bear witness to what is at the heart of God? In an interview with Christianity Today, Bono said:

"A third of the Earth's population is incarcerated by poverty. It is, as they say, the drive of the Scriptures. Why isn't it the drive of the churches?"
All the resources necessary to stamp out the degrading affects of global poverty are available, should the hearts of Christians break for what breaks the heart of God. It is doable, one life at a time through communities of Jesus followers in partnership with ministries like Compassion International and World Vision.

How we treat the poor, Jesus said, is the same as how we treat Him. If you knew Jesus was poor, how would you respond? Really; what would you do? Even more, what did Jesus do in the face of our poverty? How far did He willingly go for you, me and our impoverished world? Marcello (and his sister in the photo above) give poverty a face. In their face we discover Jesus.

So, what happens when poverty has a face?

What do you think? Please click "Comments" 6 to leave yours.


g9ine said...

This is the face of poverty I saw.

Thanks for sharing your experience too.

Phylis Ritscher said...

Wayne - very well written, and it certainly resonates with me - I read this last week but didn't have time to respond. I'm forwarding the link to others. I'm glad you had such a great trip! Phylis