Making Poverty History? Maybe Not Today.
You’ve probably seen the slogans that are so easy to throw out there such as “We are making poverty history.” This slogan (and many other broad sweeping ones like it) are great slogans that come from the heart. They are amazing things to strive for. Yet, at the end of the day it and many other slogans that talk of fast change, widespread transformation and the curing of social ills end up falling short of their aim in delivering vast numbers of changed lives.
Why are these things so easy to say yet so hard to deliver on? 3 words – The Human Factor.
Of course in addition to this are; Complex systems. Individual decisions. Painful Pasts. Difficult Presents. Uncertain Futures. Spiritual Separation. Broken Cultures. Lost Dignity.
All of these lead to the lack of a “One size fits all” answer to the issue of poverty.
This convinces us even more that to see poverty made history, it has to be by focusing on one individual at a time, over the long haul in a mutually accountable environment.
Sounds a whole like relationship, doesn’t it? Sounds messy, time intensive and costly, too.
I’d love for the solutions to be black and white. I’d love if the game plan that we wrote on the chalkboard in the locker room actually turned out that way when it was game time. However, like any other relationship we find ourselves in – that ain’t the way relationships work. They cannot be plotted using Xs and Os.
Take for instance some of the basic requirements that we lay out there for Moms.
- You must be working.
- You must be a single mother.
- You must tell us the truth about your situation.
- You must stay in the area for the longterm.
We put these rules in for good reasons. They help us to think about long term sustainability. They are good rules and rules that seem pretty straight forward and easy to enforce, right?
But, in comes The Human Factor to rock our world.
What do we do when the rainy season comes and Moms are unable to work because the types of work cease that they do on a daily basis. I mean here the rains even mean that the federal courts close for 6 weeks. Yep, close up shop. What does that mean for a mom that almost all work evaporates?
Or, what do we do when we find out that a mom is now pregnant because her husband who abandoned her originally has returned after she entered into the project. What if she is now pregnant because she had no right to say no to her husband because of culture and religion? What if she and her husband decide that they want to reconcile? As Jesus’ followers we believe in reconciliation and want to see families together. Does that mean she should be removed from the project because she is not single any longer? If she stays in, what message does that send to other moms?
What about lying to get into the project? When you are the poorest of the poor you are desperate. How much slack do you get for not telling the truth? What about the factor that the person is not a Jesus follower and therefore lacks the moral compass that comes through regeneration? With that said, I’ve been lied to by plenty of Christians…and told a few myself along the way, too.
And then there is the need to stay long term in the area. But what if you are desperately poor and an agent shows up and tells you that if you will just take a job as a household servant in an Arab country then you will no longer be poor. What if he tells you that your flight, passport and visa will be paid for and that this is the most loving thing you could do for your child because of all of the money you’ll be able to send back to your family. What if your extended family shames you into going? What if you leave your child behind with Grandma who is elderly and only knows how to beg for a living. What do you do then?
Poverty is a complex issue. And, in my opinion, Poverty can only be addressed through relationship where one is walking closely with a family over a long haul. There will be bumps. There will be disappointments. There will be failures. But, welcome to relationship, right? And there will be times when we have to say goodbye to families for a variety of reasons.
I am grateful for a team of people around us who are willing to see many shades of grey rather than black and white. I am grateful for a team of people who are willing to look past statistics and “numbers served” to see People – Moms and their children.
They are able to see People for whom it is possible that poverty will one day be made history, but through a one step at a time, case by case, individual by individual process with plenty of messiness along the way. Welcome to relationship.
May we enjoy that ride.