For the past few weeks I’ve been reading “The Hole in Our Gospel” as part of a series we are doing at our church. Whether you consider yourself “religious”, “spiritual” or none of the above, I believe this book and others like it is important to read. Poverty, most especially the challenges that Africa as a whole continues to face, is a human problem, not a problem that only particular churches or governments or celebrities should be doing something about.
The older I get (and yes, I really can say that, trust me), the more I am surprised at the things I thought “always were” when it comes to our world. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, it was quite common to see the poor on my television screen as part of the campaigns to fight hunger and poverty in third-world countries. Graphic photos of starving children or families living in nothing but cardboard were disturbing but even as a child I just don’t remember the images shaking me to the core.
The summer before my sophomore year of high school I had the opportunity to spend a week in Mexico as part of a youth mission trip. It was the first time I had seen with my own eyes an entire community of people literally living in cardboard houses. No running water. No electricity. Hot. Dirty. Smiles. That’s what I remember about that trip, for the most part. Not a lot of dark, dreadful feelings but rather being surprised at the way these people lived and acted about their living situation. Again, I did not come away from that experience with a surging “I need to DO something!” feeling about how drastically different they were living in comparison to my life.
Throughout my 20s there were various opportunities of working with the poor on a very short-term basis. Feeding the homeless, helping to build a simple home for a family in Mexico, ministering to the Palestinians in Gaza (that was one crazy time!); while these experiences were interesting and challenging on various levels, I still do not recall feeling compelled to come alongside “the least of these” and to love my “neighbors” as “myself.”
While reading the “Hole” book, I was surprised to learn the history of the chasm or disparity between those who “have” and those who “have not.” President Carter, in the Nobel Lecture he gave in 2002, stated:
…the most serious and universal problem [that the world faces] is the growing chasm between the richest and poorest people on earth. Citizens of the ten wealthiest countries are now seventy-five times richer than those who live in the ten poorest ones, and the situation is increasing every year, not only between nations but also within them.”
Did you catch that? Certainly we can’t expect that everyone should have an equal of amount of stuff or make an equal amount of money. But do you think it’s right or fair or just or moral that entire nations are living at 75% less than you are? And did you know that the disparity has not always been that great?
This is what took me back to the awareness of the poor not always being THAT poor in our world. As stated in the book,
…in 1820 the difference in per capita income between the wealthiest region in the world and the poorest was perhaps four to one.”
Obviously there have always been varying levels of “wealthy” and “poor” in our world. However, the disparity continues to grow larger and larger each year and those who “have” continue to just keep HAVING while those who “have not” fall even further into dire poverty. NO clean water. DEATH from treatable diseases. NO nourishing food. NO clothing. NO shelter.
Not less than what you or I have, but NONE of what you or I have.
It’s a lot to wrestle with. And boy have I have been wrestling.
I have a few “leads” as to what God is asking of myself, of my family, but nothing like a solid “do THIS” type feeling – yet. I won’t be waiting for one, as I firmly believe we are definitely not “doing” enough.
Just a few thoughts as I’m nearing the end of the book. I’ll keep you posted on our next steps towards loving our neighbors as ourselves.