The Desperation of Poverty, Part 1
Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Luke 6:20-21
As I prepared for my recent mission trip to Honduras, I checked the State Department’s website for information. There were 3 countries with travel warnings for U.S. citizens: Chad, Syria, and Honduras. Robbery, kidnapping, and murder rates of U.S. citizens are particularly high in those countries. I had not thought of Honduras as a particularly violent country, but there were hints of the violence visible immediately on our arrival. There were armed guards at the airport – military personnel grouped in twos or threes, all carrying machine guns, patrolling the corridors. In addition, most housing and business areas looked like fortresses. Concrete walls, razor wire, barbed wire, and electric wire surrounded most of the homes and housing areas we saw. Doors were metal and windows barred. Many businesses had armed guards standing at the door. As we drove to and from a church service on Sunday, we were warned to keep the tinted windows of our van closed so locals could not see the van was full of white people. Beggars and panhandlers populated the street corners, walking into traffic seeking money. The church where we worked during the week was locked down tight, and at least one worker (and two dogs) were there 24/7 to discourage looting of the tools. You get the picture – crime is rampant, and the measures taken to keep violence out also kept people like me locked inside. Honestly, one of my initial thoughts was whether I was being protected from the people of Honduras, or if they were being protected from me. Perhaps the truth was some combination of both, and I found that sad.
The parts of Honduras I became most familiar with – the work site and the mission house – were hardly filled with anything likely to be stolen in the United States. They were, however, valuable in Honduras – basic as they were by our standards. For a hungry person with few options, even a worn-out shovel could be traded for a meal. Our landfills are full of items that would have much utility in third-world countries. No doubt, many U.S. families throw out more food in a week than some Honduran families consume.
The poverty I witnessed in Honduras led to various types of desperation. People went to great lengths to protect what little they possessed. Large numbers of people sought tips for providing various unsolicited “services” – pumping gas, carrying luggage, helping guide cars into parking spots, selling cookies or pirated CDs at restaurants. What I witnessed was the desperation of poverty, and it was a side of humanity largely foreign to me, at least to this degree. I remember the line from an old Bob Dylan song, “When you ain’t got nothin’, you ain’t got nothin’ to lose.” I think I observed the conditions that breed criminals and terrorists. I witnessed hard realities in one small area of one small, third-world country among the dozens that populate so much of our planet. I do not know the solution to poverty or the desperation it brings. I only know that having witnessed it, I can no longer not see it.
Come home to church this Sunday. Pray for those caught in the desperation of poverty.