Last year when I was at a convention in Atlanta, I got a free shirt that reads, “Poverty Sucks.” The irony was that while I was in the city, I learned how much poverty really does suck as I walked a mile from my hotel to the convention center each day. Each time I was approached by a vagabond asking for my help, and I turned him or her away. I didn’t want to get mugged, right?
Yet the more I face poverty, the less shocked I become. To see a woman shuffling down the street with all her possessions in a shopping cart is “just how it is.” The tent city under the bridges in the urban area of town are just there. It’s sick the excuses we make to allow poverty to go on in our cities. We dismiss the homeless as mentally ill drug addicts who are up to no good. When, in fact, I met some perfectly lovely individuals living in shelters while doing my graduate school internship. One man in particular was brilliant. He just happened to fall on tough times, and here he was traveling on the bus across town to grab lunch in a soup kitchen. I’m sure if I asked “Ted” if poverty sucked, he would agree that it does.
The thing with poverty is that it’s not just overseas in desperate areas like Rwanda or Kenya–it’s right here in the United States. Yet we step over the stinkin’ corpses of our own impoverished to do what’s fashionable–to donate gobs of money and time to overseas work. Yes, there are areas in the world whose homeless suffer far worse than homeless people in the U.S. Still, it bothers me to think that only a few miles away, a family could be sleeping in a tent held together with duct tape because the shelters are full. I pity the man who’s belly aches with hunger pains and the woman who’s hiding away in a shelter.
On days like these, I want to take action. I want to build a million houses so everyone has a place to live; I want to bake a million cookies so no one has to starve (though they may all go into sugar shock), and I want to build wells on every continent in the world so that everyone can have free water. If I had one wish, today it would be for poverty to cease.
But then I remember what Jesus said, “The poor will always be with us.” It’s a sobering statement, yet a true statement–there will always be poor people. That is, until God comes back and makes everything right. We await that day with the full knowledge that we have been COMMANDED many times in Scripture to feed the poor, to care for orphans, to protect widows. To ignore this calling is to ignore the sharing of the gospel, to blatantly refuse to do what Christ has asked of His people. Shame on us, Church, shame on us!
Trips to Africa and Haiti and other nations wrecked with poverty give people a global awareness of a dire situation. Yet we continue to ignore the homeless in our own communities figuring that there’s someone else that can help them. Many wait and wait and someone else never comes. There’s one message that can unite everyone in this global crisis–poverty sucks. But a message on a t-shirt won’t change the world–that’s up to you and me.