The more I have been preparing myself for what adventures await at the end of this summer, the more I am drawn to the issue of poverty again. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down with a local pastor, Steve. He and his wife work in Coatesville and they are not afraid to tackle poverty head on. I greatly admire both of them. Through my few hour conversation with Steve I was challenged in a few ways. In other ways words were put to thoughts that were in my head.
Before going any further, I want to ask you a question. "what is poverty?" Please... take 10 seconds and think about what poverty is. What does that word make you think of. I mean it. Stop reading, take 10 seconds and answer that question. What is poverty? What does it look like?
Webster's dictionary defines poverty as:
a : the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessionsb : renunciation as a member of a religious order of the right as an individual to own property
Most of us would define poverty in a fairly similar way, I'm sure. We tend to think of poverty as a lack of money and resources. We think of the person in poverty as the one driving the beater car. The one who may not have a nice home. Maybe one who has a home but their electric and water has been shut off and they are in danger of facing eviction. Maybe poverty is begging for money on the streets. We tend to view poverty as a lack of resources. No money, no food, no suitable shelter.
While those things may certainly be results of poverty, the impoverished person will very often not view those things as "poverty". I was almost shocked when Steve asked me this question of poverty. He then told me how those in poverty define "poverty". For them poverty is not a lack of resources. It is a lack of confidence. It is a feeling of not belonging. It's a feeling of worthlessness. A feeling of hopelessness. Poverty, to the impoverished, is defined by emotions and feelings rather than resources. Poverty is a system that is so often designed to keep one in poverty. That last bit may bring up some debate in some readers. Steve then told me a story about Coatesville (but it existed all over the US). Some years something called redlining was not only legal but it was widely practiced. Redlining is a practice where banks and investors would draw red lines on maps, quite often based on the majority of racial and/or ethnic groups in areas. Banks and investors would simply not invest in those that lived inside of these red lines. This was made illegal sometime in the 1970's. But let's be real...does it still happen? I mean, unofficially, of course...
Let's talk about it this way...would you buy in a house in a community that is predominately inhabited by minorities? How about open up a new business in such a community?
I'm not trying to make anyone feel bad. I'm not trying to beat anyone up in any way. But I want to make it clear that, and read closely here, lack of resources is NOT poverty! It is the result of an impoverished mindset! Did you get that? I'll say it again...lack of resources is NOT poverty! It is the result of an impoverished mindset! Look, when I lived with my biological mother before my adoption we lived in poverty. We spent nights on the streets. What changed when I was adopted? It was not just that I was given "things". What changed was that people showed that they cared. My MIND started to be renewed. I began to feel that I mattered. And here is the simple, point blank, cannot be clearer truth: PEOPLE MATTER!
What would our country look like if people started believing that they mattered? We cannot fight the battle on poverty without understanding that poverty starts in the mind. So I do not challenge you to give money or anything. If you feel led to do so, by all means, give. But I challenge you to treat the people you may see on the streets as someone who matters.
Poverty starts in the mind - a way of thinking - and slowly begins to flow throughout the person.