On one of my last days in Guatemala, sitting in an orphanage with temperatures upwards of ninety something and no breeze, I had one of those moments that wash over you and you feel like a veil has been lifted. The kind where it takes you longer to explain the epiphany than it took for you to experience it.
And my epiphany was this: Poverty . . . back to poverty.
I grew up with a single mom in government assisted housing until I was about 14 or so. Admittedly, I didn’t experience the same poverty that I just witnessed two weeks ago, but by our standards here in the US, we were poor. My mom worked 2 jobs just to keep macaroni and cheese and Ramen noodles on the table. When you grow up poor, it doesn’t take long for you to know it. One defining moment for me was when I was in the 5th grade. I was leaving English class lined up against the wall with my classmates headed to Science class. I remember it like it was yesterday . . . a girl (let’s just call her Sue, tho I do remember her name) looked me up and down and said, “She’s got her Sedgefield’s on today, so she’ll have her Levi’s on tomorrow”. Instantly, I was humiliated. I also remember that being the first time in my life that I wanted to cry, but felt it necessary to will myself not to. But what Sue had announced to my classmates was true. I did only have 2 pairs of jeans. And I wore each of them every other day, with no other pants rotated in. The Levi’s and the Sedgefield’s were it. And she had figured it out.
Fast forward to 8th grade or so, and I had been invited to a sleepover at a friend’s house that lived in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Jacksonville. Her house was beautiful – it was a stately looking white house with black columns. The first time I pulled up, I literally thought I was walking into a mansion. I was so happy to be invited and had a great time until the next morning when I overheard my friend’s parents talking about me in the kitchen. Their conversation included their “concerns” that they monitor the time their daughter spent with me because of my dad’s reputation in town. I’m softening it up, but suffice it to say that they were well aware of my father’s alcohol addiction, and not convinced they wanted to be “associated with that”. Needless to say I didn’t eat very much of my eggs that morning.
There are, of course, other moments that affected me much the same, but these adequately paint the picture of my emotions enough to show that I grew up believing that I had something to prove. My senior high years were great! My mom re-married and we moved into a house on Miss Annie’s Drive. It was a very small house. But it was a house, nonetheless. We were proud.
Despite, the uptick in our standard of living, the drive to “show them” was already set in motion. I had this pervasive need to prove that I was worthy of being somebody. I would somehow escape this image of being poor. I would go to college (and I did). Get a good job (and I did). Get married (and I did). Have kids (and I did). Buy a house (and I did). And the list goes on and on. By all of our worldly standards, I had arrived. Poverty and being seen as poor or hanging with the poor was a part of my past that I had successfully escaped.
And now here I am – however many years later – and my holy discontent if you will is to be with the poor. Why? Because it is here that I see Jesus most intimately. Most clearly. It is here that I truly see what it means to love your neighbor. To help the broken in spirit. The oppressed. The least of these. When you have nothing, all you have IS Jesus.
Between my trip to Guatemala two weeks ago, and attending the Art*Music*Justice Tour last night, I’m utterly convinced that if you go where the poor resides – you WILL find Jesus there. And by poor I mean . . . the orphans, the homeless, the ones that are being held against their will because of human trafficking . . . the poor in spirit.
Sara Groves told Elisabeth’s story last night. Elisabeth, the oldest of seven children was living in SE Asia, and had just finished her sophomore year of high school when she decided to take a job in a nearby community to save money for Bible college. But tragically, she was betrayed, kidnapped and sold to a brothel owner in another country. She found herself days later in a foreign country, unable to speak the language and forced into a life of prostitution. She prayed every night for the Lord to rescue her even in the midst of being mocked by the other girls in the brothel. She was told “God doesn’t hear your prayers in places like this”. But yet she still believed. When she was rescued by the International Justice Mission months later, Psalm 27 was written on the wall above the tiny mattress in her room. “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I fear?”
God is rescuing the poor. And He’s using US to do it. God is rescuing the violently oppressed. And He’s using US to do it. God is clothing and providing shoes to the orphans in Guatemala. And He’s using US to do it. God is mighty to save the homeless here in our own country. And He’s using US to tell them.
Yes, there’s something about hanging with the poor that makes me feel closer to God. Much more so than playing Bunko on women’s night out, having block parties, or any of the other things that I thought would be so much fun and fulfilling when I “arrived”. (and please hear me say that there is nothing wrong with any of the above!) Those are all GREAT things! I just find it interesting that I now prefer to fellowship with the ones I would’ve desperately tried to avoid years ago. But whether it be Denver, Norman or Elisabeth, I’m glad that God is bringing my life full circle. Poverty . . . back to poverty.
See, I told you it’d take longer to tell it.