By Susan Perry
I was first wrecked by poverty during my sophomore year of college.
Our flight touched down on the island of Exuma in the Bahamas; I stepped off excited, expectant, and feeling completely at home in my surroundings. As we drove from the airport to our lodging for the week, I wanted to cry and to scream with joy at the same time. As we started to pass houses, my excitement was slightly invaded by reality-I wasn’t prepared for this poverty. Going into the trip, I knew we would be working in an impoverished area, but I couldn’t grasp that concept while still at college. I hadn’t been immersed in poverty.
We arrived on Friday, during the afternoon. Saturday night, we were walking around the village of Rolleville, promoting our Easter Egg hunt for the kids that would be held in the next couple of days. Towards the end of our journey around the village, we stopped to pray for three people.
The last person that we prayed for was named Kathy. Her house looked run-down, with stones visible through the wall. The house was small, a fact that I had learned to expect. She was standing outside and the group went over and talked with her. At some point, the conversation shifted to what we could pray for her about. Like we had been doing for the others, we laid hands on her and prayed. After we said “Amen,” Pastor Ray caught my eye.
“Have you seen the inside of her house?” Pastor Ray asked me. I shook my head and followed as he led me into Kathy’s house.
Ray had to duck to get into the door. As soon as he stepped away from the door, I saw poverty up close and personal. Her house consisted of two rooms that could easily fit in the living room of the older apartments on campus. Kathy followed us in, along with five other team members. It was too crowded for all of us, so one team member stepped out.
Her main room consisted only of a fridge and freezer, a small table with two chairs, an oven, a sink, and a couple of cabinets. The one window in the house was just a hole in the wall. A single light bulb tried to light the small room. Paint was peeling off of the cracked walls. For some reason, a door was laid across the lone beams of the unfinished ceiling. This door almost spanned the length of the main room.
An even smaller door led to another room, one that I was unable to see. From listening to the conversation, I figured out that that room was where she slept. Where I stood, I could guess that the only things in that room were a bed and a place to hold her clothes. I honestly do not know if this house even had a bathroom.
I tried to take all of this in, and was shocked speechless. It took just about all of the mental strength that I had to not break down crying in this woman’s home. In that moment of being immersed in poverty, my heart was wrecked, my world was flipped. I realized that I am rich-no ifs, ands, or buts. Even after we left her house, I was still overwhelmed with what I saw. I didn’t talk much, if any, on the ride back to where we were staying. Talking would have taken away from my attempt to comprehend what I just saw.
Later that night, the team had a time of worshiping God-something we did almost every night of the trip. The evening changed from a time of simply singing songs to an emotional experience about the songs that were being sung-everyone in the room was affected emotionally. During this intense emotional and spiritual time, the tears that I had been holding back since seeing Kathy’s house flooded my face. With each gasp of breath, I could feel my heart breaking all over again.
I cried for the poverty that I now understood. I cried for the unfairness of why I was rich and they were poor. I cried for myself, for foolishly believing that I was poor. I cried for my world being turned upside down. I cried out to God, asking Him to work through me however He wanted to. I knew I could never see God, the world, or myself the same again.
Coming back “home” to America after having your heart wrecked is more challenging than seeing the poverty in the first place. On our flight back to Florida, I felt a sense of uneasiness. Even though I knew I would be seeing my family the next day, I didn’t want to get off of the plane because it meant I would be back in America.
When we got back to New Jersey, I walked into the living room of my apartment on campus and wept.
I was wrecked by poverty my sophomore year of college and haven’t been the same since.
Susan attends Stockton College in New Jersey where she is a Visual Arts major with a concentration in photography, a writing minor, and a Jewish studies minor. She believes that making someone else happy is one of the best feelings in the whole world.