Will you join me today at A Life Overseas as I talk about poverty?
From my spot across the room, I heard an older woman talking to a young intern.
“It will get easier – I promise!”
We were in a hard area. An area where poverty pounded the pavement and homeless gathered in shop doorways, waiting for their evening meal at any shelter they could find. The intern was working at a nonprofit organization as a part of her social work major at university. She had grown up in a suburb with well-kept lawns and less visible dysfunction and poverty. She was struggling.
I stopped what I was doing when I heard the statement.
I grew up in an area where poverty was ever-present. From deformed beggars on the streets to children with the bloated tummies and reddish hair of malnutrition, I was never shielded from my surroundings. I am fully comfortable navigating the streets of Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and various cities in North America. I spend time with refugees and before I get to work each day, I have already passed ten to fifteen homeless people.
But there’s one thing that I’ve learned about many of us: Seeing and responding to the poor doesn’t necessarily get easier. You may get used to it. You may not stare, or get startled, or cry every time you see a small child put their hand out for money and follow you down the street, ever-persistent in their goal. But it doesn’t necessarily get easier.
Some of us are hard-wired to feel these things in our gut. It doesn’t make us better than others, it doesn’t make us worse than others. It’s who we are at our core. Identifying and empathizing with others is in our DNA.
Read the rest of the article here at A Life Overseas
4 thoughts on “A Life Overseas – It Doesn’t Get Easier”
Very helpful. I have to give a talk about “When Helping Hurts” to a group of short-termers in a month and your practical suggestions will make it into my talk. I knew someone overseas who obeyed God’s command to “give to everyone who asks” by giving every beggar attention and respect, rather than money. He also helped materially when it was appropriate, but first he treated them like a human being made in the image of God.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you so much Anne. I like this example you give and again, there is that important reminder that we – all of us – are made in the image of God.
So good. Thanks for taking the time to write this, Marilyn. This semester I’m doing my senior social work placement with an interfaith agency working specifically with homeless families in our community, and it has been a really heartbreaking experience, in a meaningful, redemptive way. I’m grateful my experience growing up overseas and the awful things you see simply by nature of that upbringing has opened my eyes to poverty in ways that go far beyond the “man with the cardboard sign on the corner,” which is the common perception of homelessness that is upheld here–that these individuals are there by choice and/or because of laziness and apathy. Perhaps some are–I have seen that–but the vast majority of families I work with are single moms coming from situations of domestic violence or who have been manipulated and abandoned by their children’s father, and now they are working their fingers to the bone trying to find SOMEone who will believe in them, listen to them, ache for their story, grow a relationship with them, and love their children. Other families are experiencing a sudden crisis of homelessness after a series of awfully unfortunate events ripped away just about everything they never thought they’d lose, and they’re in shock and just trying to learn how to breathe again and how to deal with the poverty they never expected. What I’ve learned is that there is ALWAYS a story. Always, every time. And we cannot be the hands and feet of Jesus if we don’t seek to understand a person beyond what many are turned off by–a smell, a sleeping bag, a cardboard sign, a shopping cart–and love them all the way. And if we do take the time and invest the emotional energy and risk the awkwardness to do that, boy, how much we learn from them, how much we realize all we have and all we’ve built up for ourselves in this life is so transient, and we’re all just about a paycheck, a car wreck, and a medical diagnosis away from being homeless and desperate ourselves. How good and humbling it is to be reminded that this life and all it offers us is not what it’s about–neither the joys nor the suffering. It’s all momentary and fleeting and the best is yet to come and for now, we wait and we groan and we hope and we stoop down to love the least of these because they are the ones Jesus knelt down and made his knees dusty for.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Michelle – I love this comment. It deserves to stand on its own in a separate post. I want to memorize your last line. Thank you for this.