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In which I admit to being afraid of poverty

When I heard that Tropical Storm (now Hurricane) Issac was headed for Haiti, part of me wanted to hold up one of Glenon Melton’s WTF?!?! signs towards heaven. Seriously, can these precious people in Haiti not get a break? And now what? Now what? I imagined the tent cities I’ve seen on the news, blowing away any small gains since the earthquake, again and again, the loss of water and food, I thought of the Livesay family, and what can you do, but pray?

This next part is hard to write out loud. After all, maybe I’m the only one. But if there is one gift that writing my life out online has given me, it’s this one: I’m never alone. Every time I crack open some part of my heart, make some confession of my own inadequacies or fears, I am met with a chorus of “You, too? Me, too!” and “I thought I was the only one!” and that makes me brave. So I’m guessing that I’m not alone in this, either. At least, I hope not.

I’m scared of extreme poverty.

I’m scared of my own privilege, I’m scared that I’ll hurt more than I’ll help. I feel my white-Canadian-girl-privilege sticking out all over me, prickles and stings of my place in the world, my luck of the draw. I’ve written before about how I wrestle with it, how my heart is wounded at the slightest exposure to poverty, and then I quickly move on, stuff my fingers in my ears and sing lalalalalalalalahallelujah loudly to drown out the inadequacies of my response, look busy! look busy! look busy!

Also, I feel frustrated when I read about how our efforts can often hurt the very ones we all seek to help, and how even the language or methods of it all, just smacks of colonialism and imperialism, racism, sexism, nationalism. I’m scared of my apathy, of my comfort, and I’m scared that if I do take a risk and get my hands dirty, that really, I’ll end up hurting more than I’ll end up helping.

I want to love well, and I have no idea how to love the world’s extreme poor well.

So, sure, I pray. I sponsor kids in Rwanda, and India, and Mexico, because I’ve become convinced that it’s a model that works. I try to do some good in my local community, too, with my real hands with real people in real life. And I believe that it matters, because if anything matters, everything matters.

But I still feel afraid of poverty because, honestly, I don’t know how it fits with what I think I know about God, with the Father-heart, I can’t reconcile my first-world problems and my first-world understanding of provision and prosperity and wellness, with the raw survival of poverty. Where is God and what is it that I don’t understand about him that this is happening? There are people who love and know God, that are faithful and good and holy, in a way that should probably shame me.  It’s scary.

But fear is never God’s way. The comfort of the divine is this: do not be afraid. Over the years, particularly over this past year of learning the meaning of fearless, God has gracefully, wholly, generously, ferociously, broken the chains of fear in my life.

And now I know that fear must always be cast out, and the only fix, the only key of the unlock  moments, is love.

So Love is greater than fear, and Love wins.

I want to love the poor, and recognise my own poverty, and I don’t want to make caricatures or sob stories or manipulations or success stories out of another person. I would like to love. I would like to meet my brothers and sisters in the developing world, to know them, and I’d like to learn, and I’d like to help, if I can, and I don’t know where else to start but right where I am, right now.

And because I don’t know how to help without hurting or making a mess of it, I’ve decided to start with Help One Now. They’re a tribe – people like us – committed to caring for orphans & vulnerable children by empowering & resourcing high-capacity local leaders in order to transform communities & break the cycle of extreme poverty.

Jen Hatmaker introduced me to this tribe, she’s someone I trust, and she does these garage sales for orphans with them. (I think a few of us could probably do that, if we’re feeling disconnected from this stuff. I’ll think about it some more. What do you think?)

We Have Not Forgotten Haiti

Anyway, they’re also part of the We Have Not Forgotten Haiti movement. Part of what I liked about these folks, is that it’s all local-led and it’s church-based. So instead of the Great White Hope from the North showing up with a toolkit, they seek to partner with and support the church that is already there, doing the work of the Gospel for their own communities. You can read more about the whole thing here (yep, totally cried my way through it, don’t mind me…).

(RSS subscribers, if you can’t see the video, you’ll need to pop over to the site to watch it. And it’s worth it.)

Above, I said: what can you do but pray?

I also want to pray with my feet.

I want to pray with my hands.

I want to pray with my voice.

And I want to pray with my money.

Let’s push back a bit of darkness with St Cyr in the tent city of Haiti.

You know, I wasn’t planning on this big post this morning. I really wanted to tell you about St Cyr (that’s him below) who has worked in this tent city for years and years, and how we have a chance to send some money to him, for food and water and his work there, because he’s seen suffering, and he still pushes back the darkness, with hope.

Help One Now has set up an emergency relief campaign to raise money for the aftermath of Issac in Haiti, it will be led by him on the ground.

You can click here for the page or to donate.

There’s a goal of $2,500. They’ve already raised $1,275. 100% of the money, minus transaction fees, goes straight to Haiti. Straight to Haiti.

So I wondered if you’d like to help, too? Push back a little darkness, a little hopelessness, a little apathy, with me?

(This donation, this campaign, isn’t the end of this for me though, I can sense it. You know that feeling of a bird fluttering over the water? the movement of the waters, right on the surface, a stirring coming. That’s what I feel, right now, that fluttering.)

I want to remember the poor, I want to pull my fingers out of my ears, I want to engage, and I won’t turn away, because of my own ridiculous insecurities anymore.

Not anymore. I hope.

Fear won’t win, not this time, no more, and it won’t hold me back from my future-friends, my God-family, around the world. I’ll start to practice loving the best way I know, with the people I trust to show me the way forward, and hope that we can make space for God, over and over, to sweep in with healing, wholeness, a spirit-wind of unity and love, as an outpost of the way of Jesus, one daily completely unglamorous step at a time.

 (Photo source) 

 

 

community, consumerism, faith, fearless, Haiti, journey, social justice

39 Responses to In which I admit to being afraid of poverty

  1. julestew66 August 30, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    I totally get that….then I just wonder what ‘poor in spirit’ means. What if us ‘westerners’ are really the ones in poverty? What is real poverty? I know it is a lack a material items and food, but what about poverty in other forms, other things that really matter….the intangible. I hope this makes sense. I want to help too, and not hurt.

    • Jenn August 30, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      Sometimes I think the same thing. I think often we are the poor ones when I see their amazing sense of community and family.

    • Sarah Bessey August 31, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

      Yes. That totally makes sense. I feel that, too.

  2. from two to one August 30, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    Yes, yes, I just wrote about how I am so sick of all the STUFF my husband and I have. It’s no longer an anti-consumerist rant or Shane Claiborne-inspired declaration that we’re selling all this stuff and living with and like the poor. It’s about learning to INVEST, not just BUY, and to do so with the same vigor and discipline as we do with our financial investments. Sponsoring children is a form of investment, and so is not buying clothes made under slave-like conditions. But I agree — it is so, so hard with our heaping privilege to rid ourselves of all this STUFF.

    • Sarah Bessey August 31, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

      Yes! I’ve been on a tear in our house, too.

  3. Sarah Hubbell August 30, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    Thank you for this. I’m not sure if I mentioned this (I talk about it a lot) but we are adopting from Haiti. The hurricane obviously concerned us. I was also introduced to Help One Now by Jen and I like what I see from them so far. I’ve already committed to helping them…one garage sale for orphans coming up :) I understand the wrestling, I do, but I refuse to be paralyzed by it.

    • Sarah Bessey August 31, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

      I didn’t know that, Sarah! (How did I not?!) Praying as you work towards together.

  4. Mary1912 August 30, 2012 at 9:37 am #

    Wow.. This is a hard post for me in so many diffrent ways than you mentioned. For me, I feel guilty asking God for provision when there are people like this, living in shacks, not eating, no clothing or protection. You see, I am what they call the working poor (I type this on my computer at work). My income is short $900 every month to be able to pay bills and eat. If it werent’ for a friend sending me $100 in a grocery card (checking the mailbox anxiously…will we eat this weekend? Will it get here in time?) we probably would not have any food this weekend. And we may still not. We don’t look like we are poor. We have a car payment. We live in a good school district. But if you look closer you will see…tattered, old, patched up clothing, declined invitations to movies or events due to no money to participate, bills piled up high and no way to pay, stressful looks on our faces, a girl who wears her brothers’ hand-me-downs. I feel guilty asking God for clothing for my kids as I sent them to their first days of school with nothing new on their backs. Not even a new shirt. I plow through used and junked binders and such to find something that would work for my kids for school. I make $50 a month too much to qualify for reduced lunches. And so I pay full price when I can’t afford to fill my pantry. I have nothing in the pantry, so I send them to overdraw their lunch accounts to eat. And pay it back when I can. I feel guilty asking God to bring my husband a job. Being out of work for 2 years is horrible. I know I should feel thankful for my job. And I am, but it’s not enough. So I feel challenged. When my son is teased online by friends for never having any money, my husband crumbles from the stress and fear, my daughter just wanting to get some pants for crying out loud…I am driven to my knees. I have to ask and pray. And I think of places like Haiti, Mexico, and where I live…where people, shadow people like me, live. I know I am much better off than many, but not compared to the world I live in.
    So I struggle with fear and guilt….they have it SO MUCH worse. How can I even complain?
    Struggle for sure.

    • Sarah Bessey August 31, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

      Mary, thank you for this openness. Truly.

  5. Jenn August 30, 2012 at 9:37 am #

    Thanks for sharing these Sarah. I always struggle with knowing best how to “share” my resources without doing more harm than good.

  6. Ed_Cyzewski August 30, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    Fantastic. Our church supports a network of orphan homes in Cambodia, and one of the things I love about it is that the majority of the staff are over there. We have two people stateside who help mobilize teams and raise funds, but it is largely run by pastors and leaders in Cambodia, as it should be.

    • Chris Marlow August 30, 2012 at 11:44 am #

      Ed, that is awesome and much needed. We (Help One Now) always try to stay as invisible as possible, and let the local leaders/church lead. It’s a good thing!

  7. To Think Is To Create August 30, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    The amount of “me too”‘s would be practically ridiculous so I can’t even say it. I’ve been feeling God changing me, preparing me for something, saying “It will be time soon” and I don’t know what it means. I’m less scared, or rather I’m not letting it stop me anymore, but just on a heart level. I’m still too scared to even watch the video, but here I go…

  8. KathleenBasi August 30, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    My own conflict over Haiti came last weekend, when the weather forecasters said we would get some rain–finally–now that all the wells are dry and my parents’ crops are ruined–and that it would hang around longer if Isaac stayed put and blocked our rain from moving through. How can you wish for that?

  9. J.R. Goudeau August 30, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    I continue to heart you. Immensely.

  10. Rachel Heath August 30, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    You know, I didn’t realize how much I felt this until I read it. All of it. Thank you for the challenge.

  11. @bibledude August 30, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    sarah, sarah, sarah… just wow. i love your raw honesty, and i can tell you that you are not alone. and this won’t be the end of it. and i look forward to seeing what comes next…

  12. mar August 30, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    So good, and yes you said out loud what I am thinking … and when you add in the “when helping hurts” (entire books are written on that) it is absolutely paralyzing … and just giving cash continues to maintain distance between me and them, and I hate that too … the only help to my paralysis is to make some kind of move, even a small donation somewhere, and to trust that a loaves and fishes miracle will somehow be possible from that gesture even if an individual or organization may misuse the gift. Perhaps the power is in the “I see you” of the gift itself, even if other things go amiss?

  13. ChrisAnn and Kristin August 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    Whenever I’ve come face to face with poverty, I’ve also come face to face with holy ground. I come face to face with my own poverty. The riches and wealth those in third world nations own, make mine worthless in comparison. But after exchanging stories, a meal…we all walk away knowing we each had something to the table to bring. I think it has to do with your posture, your heart attitude and based on what you’ve shared, I don’t think white Imperialism will be your issue. If your heart is to serve, that speaks volumes.
    ~Kristin

  14. Tara Porter-Livesay August 30, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    Dear sweet and honest Sarah …
    You need to know that I am scared of extreme poverty – for all the reasons you listed and more — my life is so jacked up (well – not my life — My HEAD … I cannot even articulate what I think about anything, I feel stunted in some ways). Today I told my husband that I just feel mad at it all (the people the place the situations) in order to not feel pain. It doesn’t really work — the mad wears off and the pain is there. I am afraid and I have no answers and I dislike it and I dislike me more sometimes.
    I have no answers.
    I just try to do it afraid. The rest has to be grace.

    • Sarah Bessey August 31, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

      I love you so much, Tara. You are real-er than real.

  15. Brenda W. August 30, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    You are NOT alone in these feelings. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Deetz Whichard Hanna August 30, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    beautiful explanation and by the way “me too”

  17. Cara Sexton August 30, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Me too. Me too. Me too. You, Sarah, make me love Jesus even more every time I read your words because He hangs out inside them…he does…and I understand this fiercely holy love in such new ways. It is the pure love that lets us look at these things in ourselves, the things we don’t want to see in the mirror, the things I talk loud to drown out about living out my faith when I have relative comfort in my life and others are starving to death and there is no difference between them and me except maybe they’re a little bit better because they aren’t blinded by their own affluence. So we do what we do, afraid or not, and learn how he loved right over the fear by the doing and doing and doing again and maybe we’re less afraid every time. Love you girl, for real. Thank you for what your words do across cities and in hearts and into the dark waters of poverty and injustice. You? Matter. And this is significant stuff.

  18. Tara Porter-Livesay August 30, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    somebody else said this … but seeing material poverty hurts us because it makes us face our own poverty — and I for one an pretty flippin poor :( in spirit.

  19. Ryan Sexton August 30, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    I totally agree with the work being done by Haitians in Haiti. I went on a great Mission trip last year to the other side of the Island. The Dominican Republic trip was great and it was a great eye opener for me. It was my first mission trip and although i felt I grew spiritually from doing it, I also came to the realization that my “help” was probably “not helping” as much as it could. The organization was phenomenal and I met some great people, but how much was wasted on the plane ticket, housing, food, and transportation of me being there? How much more could have been done if our group DIDNT GO? As you can see in the video, there are plenty of people who can do the work, who would love to work, who probably need the days wages to feed their family. How selfish is it of us to take a “mission trip” when its really just a “spiritual vacation”? Just a little trip to experience something new, help some poor people, and maybe grow a little spiritually. It would be great to see churches rally around a mission trip, do car washes and bake sales, love offerings, fundraisers and all the other things they normally do when sending a group somewhere. And then the kicker is, they dont go. They send the money to group of the native people who are making a difference. The local Pastor building houses and churches, and feeding orphans. On my trip I couldnt help but feel like the local church members helping us to help their less fortunate were silently shaking their heads at us, thinking to themselves that they could have built 5 more houses that week or fed 10 families for a year if we stayed in our quiet little suburbia’s. They never once let on to that, and i doubt they were thinking that but I didnt go home proud of what I had done. I went home realizing how much more could have been done if I hadn’t gone. So forgive me for sounding preachy, and forgive the typo’s, my wife Cara would be shaking her head at me right now. But please send money, supplies, prayers, but if you want to physically help, volunteer in your local community or keep your butt on the couch. Sometimes helping IS hurting.

  20. Jim Fisher September 2, 2012 at 5:14 am #

    Our church works with Haitian refugees who have trekked to the Dominican end of the island to try and find work in the sugar cane fields and citrus plantations. With what little they make, they save what they can to send back to their relatives who they left behind.

    As you and many others have mentioned, approaching extreme poverty from a paternalist pedestal doesn’t work — either for us or for them. Working alongside the Haitians continues to have a huge effect on my worldview. More about that here: https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/poverty-up-close

  21. stephsday September 2, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    I agree that the child sponsorship model seems to be one that “works” because it tends to be holistic – addressing the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellness of individuals, families, AND of entire communities.

  22. stephsday September 2, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    Do you mind if I ask WHICH organization you sponsor children through and how you made your choice?

  23. claire September 2, 2012 at 10:16 pm #

    the disparity in this world seems so unfair to me. I often am holding up a “WTF?” sign. It seems so unfair that I get to blog about my life, and take my kids to the waterslides, and eat out when I don’t feel like cooking, and buy crayons when they run out…while others live in extreme poverty or slavery. And I feel overwhelmed too and I don’t know what to do so often either. The disparity is overwhelming to me.

  24. Jen September 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    I have a friend who adopted her son from Ethiopia. As part of the long walk to bring their son home, they also found a huge hole in their heart for the children left in the orphanages there. And so they along with some other new friends who also were adopting and who they traveled with to meet and bring their children home, they started supporting one school, one medical facility there. They are traveling there this month to do some work. They are taking a bunch of supplies with them when they go. School supplies, stethoscopes, soccer balls, etc. They made an Amazon wish list for the kids in Ethiopia and then sent it out on Facebook to their friends. I saw the list – simple things my kids have access to and these kids need – and I had to help. Or maybe I had to assuage my guilt about the privilege we enjoy. But it was easy. It was personal. It was something.

    I relate to your heart and your desire to help but not to hurt. To meet a need but not put our culture on those needs. It is hard. And I wonder if that struggle, that seeking God’s way in all this is part of it.

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