Some time ago I saw former President Bill Clinton give a two hour talk to Georgetown College. One might think that this talk must have dragged on, but in truth it was fascinating. I was surprised as to how charismatic he was; not sure I’ll ever meet anyone with more personality and warmth. Yup, I know you must think I’m a little crazy, but I stand by this. The talk focused on humanity’s need to take care of the poor. He spoke at length and made some great points; he made a deep impression upon me when speaking to what it felt like to live in poverty and how to interact with the poor. He drew upon his childhood, growing up poor in Arkansas with a single mother, and relayed as a little boy in the 50’s neither his mother, nor any of her family could afford a television, they had a hard time keeping a roof over their heads. The former president indicated that while many of his classmates thought he was miserable as a result of this poverty, truth be told he said he was filled with joy; he said they didn’t need a TV because every night the family, including aunts, uncles, and cousins, would get together at one of their houses, and different adults would ‘get to storytelling’. Bill Clinton relates that these stories were so amusing and interesting and were much more captivating than what would have appeared on TV during the 50’s. He used this story to illustrate that while we think those in poverty live miserable lives devoid of joy, they actually live challenging (economically difficult) lives filled with great joy and intimacy amidst their community. Had Will Rein and our missionaries attended this talk, they would understand that what was being suggested is that when we minister to the poor it should not be limited to economic health but must include the ministry of presence coupled with need to afford them great dignity! That Georgetown talk has never left me and had made a great impression upon me and now I see those in poverty with great hope in the witness of their faith.
Last week I spent four days living amidst the Constanza community, and while I may have witnessed great suffering, I encountered so much more joy.
Honestly, I don’t think the folks in that town were aware that their standard of living was so much less than our own. The folks are fed, one would expect this given that they lived amidst vast farmland. They also were clothed and many owned motorcycles, dirt bikes, or mopeds. There were numerous shacks or small one room buildings from which food, clothes or other essentials were sold. In Constanza there were a few small banks, a small grocery store, one very small Hyundai dealership, a larger motorbike dealership, and one medium size medical clinic which had several examining rooms, a small walk up pharmacy and some waiting rooms. The greatest need in that community is medical care. The nearest hosptial (20 minutes away) had two operating rooms, that is until they just demolished them to rebuild new ones. I asked when the surgical rooms would be finished, with shrugged shoulders the doctor said eventually. The nearest hospital to this one was over an hour away! Their biggest health issues are high blood pressure, diabetes, and HIV (an increasingly high STD rate amidst the teens). If you saw how carelessly they operate their vehicles you would also realize that many accidents result in hospital trips. Next week I’ll discuss how we are helping them.