Why Family Selection is so Stinkin’ Difficult.
On Thursday we selected the first 11 families for our project and what an amazing day it was. We have found these wonderful, beautiful, amazing women and their children whom we look forward to partnering with. Many of these women have lost their husband along the way. Some of them have lost 2 husbands. Some of these women are victims of rape and others tried to abort their babies, but they survived. Some have continued to try to find small jobs along the way with their children strapped to their backs, others have started to beg to try to provide, and still others had to stop work entirely to care for their child. Husbandless and jobless is a dangerous combination here. Some have been city dwellers for their whole lives, while others moved to the city for various reasons from the countryside.
Even with the differences of stories, there are some common threads that run through their stories. They are barely making it, yet doing all they can for their children because they love them with all they have. Some without any possessions except the clothes on their backs, yet you should see the twinkle in their eye for their children. They would do just about anything if it meant those kids could get some help.
Yet, selection was very difficult today…but for a different reason than what you might imagine. I expected that it would be difficult. I expected that we would find so many potential families on the lists provided by the local government in our area and that we would be faced with stressing over how to narrow the playing field. Yet, we found it to be difficult for a different reason that may sound surprising. You see, the poorest of the poor can be difficult to find at times.
The local government had lists of those who fit the definition of poverty. They also have volunteer community leaders who have the role of knowing who is most in need. They provided us with lists and advised us that these people would benefit from our project, yet we pushed a bit and insisted that we visit the people they were recommending. I’m glad we did. What we found was that, in many cases, the poorest of the poor had not made their lists. Now, the people on that list were poor by Western standards. They were living with little or no furniture, sometimes just a mattress on the floor, a mud house, and no kitchen. They struggle to make life work and many of them are unemployed. Yet, they have resources and some form of means in most cases. They were not the poorest of the poor whom we feel a mandate from The Lord to reach.
So, we persisted and we hunted and we searched and we asked questions and we prodded. It is obvious in this community that the poorest of the poor are among us, but why are they so hard to find?
Let me start by saying from conversations that I’ve had with some really wise men and women working among the poorest of the poor in various countries, this is a hurdle that is faced by many groups trying to work among the poor. It seems that it is so easy as an organization to end up picking low hanging fruit, while the rest of the tree gets ignored. Why is it that many times things just don’t trickle down to the poorest of the poor? Here are some thoughts that I have been reflecting on after our screening experience:
1. It is easier to come alongside those who are already involved in another organization. Let’s face it, the more support that someone already has in their life, the less potential mess, right? There is a temptation to partner with families who already have someone else helping, because you know that there are others to help build the safety net. However, my opinion is that this leads to an unhealthy dependency, as well as encourages a family to not be totally transparent in their disclosure.
2. The poorest of the poor have no visible assets and therefore are themselves hidden. The women we have accepted into the project are mostly unknown and hidden within the community. Many of them rent rooms for about $6US per month which are small mud and tin rooms located behind houses in a fenced yard. They aren’t the type to register politically or with the local authorities. You get the picture – there are layers of insulation that keep them unknown, hidden and forgotten. We had to search high and low for hours to find them. We denied as many families as we accepted as we visited houses and saw living situations. It would have been tempting from a convenience standpoint to sit in an office and approve family after family, yet the effort of finding those most in need is worth every second, minute and hour that it took.
3. The poorest of the poor have little of tangible value to transact with. Many relationships are based on a transaction. A reason to make it onto a community leader’s list is that you have something to give in return for making their list. These women have nothing to transact with, however. They have no money, no power, no control, no influence. There is no reason for them to make the list. However, those that are just a bit less poor do have some money, some power, some control and some influence. They are able to offer something in a transaction that the poorest of the poor cannot.
4. The poorest of the poor can be messy. Many of these women have had brutal pasts and are living a very rough present…they come with baggage (honestly, though…don’t we all?). While they are some of the most beautiful women in the world, they can be dirty in appearance and lack refinement. They will make mistakes that others have already learned from. Some are illiterate and will need much in the way of painstaking learning. Yet, the joy of working through the mess is a treasure like no other…but it is costly. There are no overnight success stories or great outcomes to track over 3 years. This is a slow – 3 steps forward and 2 steps back…and at times 2 steps forward and 4 steps back – kind of process that in the end can result in true transformation. It is not for the impatient, the fast tracker or the outcomes based individual. Full sustainability takes much longer in this quadrant. Truth is, working among the poorest of the poor comes with so few trackable outcomes that it can be difficult to raise donor support at times. It is a high risk venture, not for the faint of heart.
5. Discrimination is a fact everywhere, especially among the poor. Let’s face it, we typically discriminate against those at the bottom. There are some people that we feel “have made their beds so they need to lie in it.” There are others that we don’t like their background or they’re from the wrong region or the wrong tribe. There are people that we judge based on their background as being lazy, thieves, dishonest or cursed. There are injustices that we perpetuate individually and culturally…sometimes even invoking God’s name while we do it. It is so easy for those who have climbed up the ladder a bit to look at those in the bottom as too far gone to be worth reaching. So, we reach a couple of rungs above the bottom of the ladder to those who are a bit more like us and we help them come up to where we are. In the meantime, those at the bottom are voiceless and powerless…not that it would matter because we would disregard their voices even if we did hear them.
6. Without God’s call and His eyes, it is hard to comprehend why to reach out to the poorest of the poor. One of the reasons why we are so adamant about reaching the poorest of the poor is because we are convinced that the outcast, forgotten and cast off are deep in God’s heart. These are the people that we read about Jesus having hung out with and who were most open to transformation during His earthly ministry. What I see when I read the Scriptures is that the kind of injustice that these folks live in ticks God off. These are the people whom we believe hold many of the keys to what true life and true joy looks like, yet they are treated as if they don’t even exist. These are people whom God loves deeply…and whom are not forgotten to Him and who it is time that they are no longer forgotten by The Church and by society. However, without God’s call and without His eyes, I think it is easy to forget about this segment of society and to not care. We resort to helping those who help themselves while overlooking those who would love to engage God and others if they only had a crack of a chance. Personally, God is not letting us off of the hook on this one. He has given us a call and His eyes – and keeps breaking our hearts along the way too (which we are all the better for Him having done), and we have no choice but to respond. We know at the end of the day that He offers radical transformation to the physically poor and the spiritually poor…and we trust Him to bring that about no matter the gravity of the need.
So, we’d love your prayers as we continue screening. We had an amazing day where we were satisfied to have welcomed 11 families into the program that we believe to be the poorest of the poor. We had to fight and do a lot of convincing…but at the end of the day, we were glad we did. God champions the cause of the forgotten and the outcast and we want to do the same. Remember Psalm 68:5, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling.” The God who defends calls us to partner with Him among the forsaken, forgotten and left behind. Please pray for us as we continue selecting those whom God has put so deeply in our hearts. I know you’ll enjoy getting to see some of those names and faces and stories soon.