Why am I not poor?
By Megan Marsh
October 17th is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. All over the world, people are standing up, calling their governments to keep the promises agreed to in the Millennium Development Goals developed in 2000. This year marks the halfway mark in the MDGs. My coworkers and I had the privilege of hearing from Dale Hanson Bourke, author of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Global AIDS Crisis and president of the US office of the Center for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ). She shared with us her own journey toward developing a heart for the poor, which included asking herself not “why are people poor” but “why am I not poor”. She listed several reasons and I was shocked to realize how many of them a person has no control over. For example, she was born an American, which pretty much guarantees that she will not have to live in extreme poverty. She has good health and access to healthcare. She had access to a good education (both public and private). She is protected as a woman by laws and by society. She has access to capital and the ability to save money. She lives in a country with a stable currency. She has insurance to minimize risk. She has the ability to own property. She has a government that has set up various safety nets.
She then talked about how Americans often see faith in economic terms. There are ideas engrained into our beliefs that God blesses those who are faithful, prosperity and health are payoffs for belief and obedience and that God helps those who help themselves. Many people of faith, therefore, conclude that if you are poor, you deserve it.
I think this belief is sometimes a subconscious one, and it really does affect the way that we serve the poor. It strips the poor of dignity. It negates the reality that foreign policy plays in the situation of poor countries. And it lends itself to an attitude of pride and self-righteousness, as if all the things above were earned instead of given as an act of grace by a God who chooses to freely bless this land.
Dale challenged us to ask God what he would have us do. To use our voices to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. I know that I had no control over being born in America and all the blessings that come with my citizenship in the richest country in the world. But I do have control over what I do with those blessings.
(The author is a Bread for the World member from Colorado Springs).
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