By Kimberly Martin
God has continually put in my heart a desire to understand what it means to be poor. I have come to realize that there are many different levels of poverty.
In America, many claim to be poor if they cannot buy the latest clothing or a new car every few years. Others say they are poor because they have to hold two or more jobs to make ends meet. Some rely on government assistance programs to meet their needs, because they have been unable to do it on their own. Still others have no place to call home. They beg in the streets, or dig in dumpsters for their meals.
What really defines poverty, and how can we understand those who live in it?
In Peru, I saw people living in mud brick houses with tin roofs and dirt floors. They crowded thirteen people into a small two-story house. Were they poor? By our standards, yes. However, I imagine the people living in palm huts alongside the mountain passes might have a different perspective.
In Kibera, Kenya, I saw families crowded into little mud shacks with open sewers flowing down the streets. Were they poor? Absolutely. Kibera is the largest slum in all of Africa, but its residents were rich compared to the people I met in Eburru.
Eburru is a little village in the mountains of Kenya. Their little mud houses were spread across the landscape, with fields of maize in between. It looked charming, but these people were dying of starvation. A four-year drought had left them without food and water.
Every time I think I have seen the worst, my eyes are opened to new levels of poverty. How do we respond to that? How can we, as Americans born into a life of incredible wealth, understand poverty? I dont believe we can.
Furthermore, I dont believe we can truly understand or appreciate our wealth until we gain a better understanding and experience of poverty.
On so many trips, I have spent the day walking among the poor with a drawn-out face, feeling compassion and sympathy, only to find myself hours later consuming a nice meal. Reasonable by American standards, but expensive enough that I could have fed ten or more of the hungry people I wept about that day.
I vowed that I would not repeat that kind of selfish and heartless behavior. I would not allow somebody to go hungry in my presence. I wanted to surrender all of my possessions and live like the people I was ministering to, whatever that meant. To experience their lives as much as possible. To know what it was like for them. To be in their shoes. To be equal.
The truth is, God has blessed me with material wealth. I have had a very comfortable life. But it hasnt been enough. I know there is more.
I have seen joy in the faces of people that do not know where there next meal is coming from. I have seen incredible generosity and hospitality from people who have no shoes on their feet. They have something I dont understand. They have a different kind of wealth.
Through their poverty, they have discovered the richness of Christ; something I take for granted. I easily get lost in the pursuit of earthly possessions and pleasures, but I want to know that kind of wealth. I dont think I will fully understand it until I am willing to completely surrender the material wealth on which I have depended my whole life and put my trust in God alone.
I am on a journey to understand my complete dependence on God. To understand the richness of my blessings in Christ. To share in the sorrows of man. To understand their pain and then rejoice in the wealth that our heavenly Father pours out on all who will receive it. That is my hearts desire.
Kimberly Martin is a graphic design graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Currently in Costa Rica, Kimberly has an interest in studying nutrition and how it applies to deficiencies within cultures.