Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wrestling with Poverty in the US, part two

{Part two of the guest post by Sarah Dornbos.}
 If you missed part one, you can find it here.

As Heather has pointed out, there is a grand-canyon sized chasm between the poor in Haiti (or other 3rd world countries) and the poor here in the US. So let me give you some examples.

On the street where I live, every evening a homeless couple sets up their tent to sleep on the porch of a church, which is visible from my second-story bedroom window. This little protected overhang is a prime piece of real estate to LA’s homeless. They fight over it, and on rainy nights they crowd into it. But it is nothing like my Haitian friends experience after 18 months of living in tent cities in the capital. Mudslides do not generally wash away this couple’s tent, or their shopping cart of belongings, in the middle of the night.

Roy lives in his car on my street. He stands at the bank with a dirty squirt bottle and offers to wash the windows of cars as their owners go into the bank. I like how strategic he is…and if I am honest, I like that he is “working”. I feel good about myself when I “let” him wash my windows and tip him. I don’t even care if he’s going to use that $ to buy alcohol. He is rail thin but makes enough money to buy food with his window washing business and he is generally a content and happy guy.

Ray is a homeless guy who attends my church…all four services. Ray is no dummy. It’s air conditioned, dry and safe inside the church. When he got a terrible leg infection from sleeping outside, he developed staph infection and could have died. But he was treated in the ER and spent a few weeks in a skilled nursing facility before he was released again to the streets. Unlike many who live on the streets, Ray is “lucky” because he doesn’t suffer from a more chronic medical condition. He also speaks English and has enough education and friends to help him maneuver through the complicated medical system.

On the wall in my office, I have a list of places within walking distance of my apartment that offer a free hot meal every night of the week, except Monday. My friends living in the tent cities in Haiti definitely do not have this luxury. And if they did, I could tell you the names of their children who would not have suffered through Marasmus and Kwashiorkor and died because they did not have enough food. Side by side these are not parallel sets of circumstances. But I wonder if that matters to Jesus?

In my head anyway, Jesus is not making comparison charts of “who is poorer”. Instead he is asking another question. He is saying, “Where are my people? The ones who say they love me? The ones I have entrusted the work of my kingdom to…?” Jesus plan for poverty, in the US and all over the world, seems to be people. Relationship. You and I. And there doesn’t seem to be a plan B.

And the point isn’t throwing more money or more stuff at “poor people”. Though that can be part of a development plan. But Lord knows that can’t fix everything. I believe the ultimate point of this battle is what takes place in the human heart (both the ‘giver’ and the ‘receiver’) when we come together. And as far as I know, we leave everything behind when we leave this world…everything but relationships.

David C. Thompson M.D. in his book The Hand On My Scalpel says,

“God has his own solutions to suffering. The first one is the most obvious: Jesus taught his disciples to share what they had with the poor. He taught that those who are called by his name are to help those who suffer and not to ignore them, blame them or exploit them. I believe that is one reason why God has given North American’s such enormous resources—not so that they can live 100 or 1,000 times better than the rest of the world, but so that they can share their wealth of money, time and expertise to lift millions of people out of poverty, sickness and ignorance.”

That kind of sharing is best done in relationships. And I have a little confession, I don’t work with any of the people that I mentioned above. I just encounter them in my day-to-day life where I live. They are part of my community here in Los Angeles.

A big part of answering the question, “Who are the poor?” is related to asking the question “Where do I live?” Heather has already brushed the surface of that conversation in her discussion with Aaron about location. But I would argue that there ARE pockets of extreme poverty in our country. Even Paul Farmer, in his new book says, ”We work in a dozen nations--including the United States—where the poor suffer disproportionately.” (p.23)We are just very good at insulating ourselves from the suffering of the poor…in fact we go to quite great lengths to keep the destitute poor from our every day lives. (An accidental wrong turn on to skidrow one day opened my eyes to this…and the suffering & injustice there were as desperate as any tent city I’ve seen in Haiti.)

More of Sarah's post coming soon....

Other posts in this series on "Caring for the Poor While Living in the US":

Caring for the Poor While Living in the Good ol' U-S of A?

Who Are the Poor?

Looking for the Poor 

Hi, My Name is Heather and I'm a Modern Day Slave Owner

Helpful Links

Barn Burning 

First, The Purging 

The Better World Shopping Guide 

More Really Great Shopping Resources 

Running Hard After Redemption 

Seeko Sandals 

Batik Boutique 

Be Informed 


Shop for Clean Clothes

Guest Post, Wrestling with Poverty in the US, part one


Rachel said...

I am enjoying her posts.

Life with Kaishon said...

This was so good. Convicting. Powerful. Thank you for sharing.