On Loving the Poor

I read this blog post this morning about how we see the poor after seeing a snippet of it on a friends blog.

When we don’t know the poor, that is when they become the Other; easy to categorize, easy to help, easy to fix, easy to forget. When we only see them in short bursts, when we never truly live in their context, when we only get fleeting  glimpses from our safe perch. It is not the language that is the problem here; in fact, when we try to sanitize it (the economically unstable, the financially depressed, low-income) it only serves to create safe and sanitized boundaries. But in the words of the Bible, the human condition is found. When we read the words “the poor,” we are expected to feel something. If you don’t, then this is a grave problem. For us, the term is one to be bandied about, argued over, molded into whatever best serves our purposes. But for people living in poverty, it is another story. We would do right to remember what the majority world already knows: beyond being theological or evoking imagery, poverty kills people. It ends lives, changes them irrevocably, fills them with suffering. According to Scripture, the poor are never to be pitied; but they are to be taken care of, to be at the forefront of our minds just as they are in the eyes of God.

Lest we fall into the easy trap of sentimentality, we need to see the entire picture of the Biblical language surrounding the poor. Let’s not forget the New Testament, where Christ declares them blessed. In this radical new world the poor and oppressed and imprisoned are the heralds of the new kingdom, and they are the ones to whom the blessings will appear. Christ is choosing, even now, to be spreading his kingdom through our brothers and sisters in poverty. They experience more miracles, more presence, more influence, than we in our closed worlds can ever imagine. They are blessed to be the leaders of the upside-down kingdom, and we who are rich are constantly reminded of how hard it is to follow Jesus when we live on the mountaintop. Woe, indeed.  ~By D.L. Mayfield

To read the full post go HERE. It’s worth a few minutes of your time.

I struggle with this whole issue at times because I know what I used to think and feel around all of this , and especially when we see the influx of people that come in and out of Haiti. For some, it’s very apparent that they compartmentalize their own insecurities and discomforts around the poor here and use words and phrases like “they do _____” or “they don’t seem to understand”. The generalization of “they” sometimes wants to make me scream. Yes, there are times where it’s appropriate, but one doesn’t mean all. I have to remind myself of this on a regular basis because it’s so easy to go there. Especially when relationships aren’t what I want or expect them to be.

I struggle with people that want the easy fixes and solutions and well, the blanket fixes and solutions. Like hundreds of years of building to this point can be undone and fixed and changed in the time you are here in country. Like you are the first person to think about this particular issue and to come up with this particular idea. The people that tend to be the hardest to talk to are the ones that are afraid to engage in conversation. To have someone suggest an alternative. Afraid to admit that their limited experience might not be experience at all. That there are more issues at hand than what is on the surface. Issues that one is made aware of after living amongst people. From learning their names. From seeing that what they present on the surface isn’t always the truth or the real issue but often a means of survival. The truth can make us uncomfortable and obligated to face the fact that our expectations of people and who they really are don’t often line up. It can force us to change how we think things should be done to do them in a way that is more effective, less damaging and less focused on making us feel good about our efforts.

I struggle with pity. I struggle with statements like, “It’s so sad” or “look at what they’re living in!” As though it is less than. And in many ways it is. But in many ways the poverty that people live in provides them with a much richer life than those of us that come from having. They are in a place where, as D.L. Mayfield shares, they see more miracles. They see more of God’s working in their lives. They are more open to those moments I think. One of the things that grinds on me is when people can’t get past the poverty. Past the garbage. Past the lack of clothing. When they can’t see the joking around. When they can’t see the love of a parent for a child because they only see that the child is skinny. When they don’t see the smiles and the joy amidst the hardship. When they can’t see that there is so much more importance put on social graces and respect. When they can’t see the resilience or strength. When they can’t see the industriousness that Haitians have, the ability to degaje, to make due, to make it work. Yes, Haiti has it’s problems, but we have so much to learn from Haitians.

I don’t ever want to be the “mayor” type, as I call it. The white person who walks through the village waving at everyone and feeling like just because they greet me I must be doing well, and yet oblivious to what is really going on. I know I can’t be liked by everyone all the time and thinking that I can is just plain foolish. I do want to be able to greet people and call them by name and to admit my humanness when I can’t remember who they are. To be okay with looking them in the eyes. To be able to say no, even if it means I might fall from their graces if I know that saying yes would do more damage. I want to be able to tell children when they’re being rude for only saying “Blan!” and not greeting me in a way that their grandmothers would approve of. I want to be able to look past the rock and mud house and notice the plants that are intentionally growing to make a yard look nicer. To know that inside there may be a nice wood china cabinet filled with the families earthly possessions and on display because they are proud of what they do  have. I want to be able to have real conversations with people about things going on, how they feel about certain issues, the cost of rice, the damage that a hard rain can do, and why people may say or do something and how confusing that can be as a foreigner.

The poor. The blessed.

~Leslie

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About Leslie

I'm Leslie. Wife. Mother. Missionary. In the day to day my husband and I are responsible for running Clean Water for Haiti, a humanitarian mission that builds and distributes water filters to Haitian families. Living in Haiti full time provides lots of stories, and as I tell my husband, our grandkids probably won't believe most of them. Maybe writing them down will give me some credibility.

8 thoughts on “On Loving the Poor

  1. “The generalization of “they” sometimes wants to make me scream. Yes, there are times where it’s appropriate, but one doesn’t mean all.” This is something I’m struggling with right now in our work with refugees in Texas–church members that put “them” into a category, that they’re not people, they’re some sort of monolithic group that thinks the same. As if the people who happen to be poor are not as diverse or as flawed or as heroic as the people who happen to be in any other social class. I loved your words today and I’ve enjoyed hosting D.L. on my blog because it’s introduced me to other writers and readers–can’t wait to explore your space later. Blessings in what you do!

    • “As if the people who happen to be poor are not as diverse or as flawed or as heroic as the people who happen to be in any other social class.”

      Oh, I LOVE how you phrased this! When we classify people as “poor” we can so easily remove their feelings, their intentions, their humanity, their ability to love and to sin, to be honest or lie, to be manipulative or sacrificial when another is in need… I could go on and on. I hate it when I see or hear people essentially equate those who are poor with children who haven’t got enough life experience to “know better”. When people forget that these are people who struggle, who laugh, who love, who hurt, who want a nice phone and to surf the internet, who want to read, who want to watch tv, who want to watch their children graduate from school, who will put every effort into dressing up as nicely as they can when the opportunity arises – JUST LIKE ME. I want and feel and think I should have all those things. Why shouldn’t they have the same feelings and needs and desires?

      I loved that I saw your post today on this and will definitely be adding you to my feed reader! Thanks for stopping by :)

    • Thank you for stopping in to say Hi. I loved your words and am glad I could share them. Sometimes others have a way of saying things that we haven’t found the words for. I’m looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.

  2. Leslie,

    Thanks so much for writing this. I echo your sentiments so much from the short (relatively) time I spent in Haiti. As I let myself become vulnerable in my small community, sharing in life in every sense, the “us” and “them” fell away and my eyes were opened to see God’s riches.

    Blessings to you in your ministry.

  3. Leslie,
    That was well put. I may share some on Sunday in church. We are returning from 16 days in Verrettes. They have been some of the best days of this year, perhaps my life! Being in Haiti makes me ever more alive in Christ. Hope to get to St Marc and a missionary meeting. God bless you and your beautiful family.
    Pete Loveland

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