The following post was written by my husband and posted on his blog a few days ago. The reason I am re-posting is because it is a testimony that I share. So please read on and feel free to share your thoughts.
The Loneliness of Poverty
Last night I listened to a sermon on loneliness and the Lord pierced my heart to share on the subject. Specifically, how poverty leads to great loneliness. While we often associate a lack of material goods with poverty, the greatest difficulty is the broken relationships that result. The poor are often isolated and alone.
In the 1990s The World Bank did a study on poverty. They interviewed 40,000 poor people in 50 countries and published the results in Voices of the Poor; a series of three books. They discuss the relational ramifications on people in poverty a great deal. For example a person from Latvia said “During the past two years we have not celebrated any holidays with others. We cannot afford to invite anyone to our house and we feel uncomfortable visiting others without bringing a present. The lack of contact leaves one depressed, creates a constant feeling of unhappiness, and a sense of low self-esteem.” A woman from Ukraine said “It’s been a year since I have seen my girlfriend; I cannot go without at least taking a little gift. We sit at home and don’t go anywhere.” These are just two examples of how poverty leads to isolation which only makes the situation worse. When community breaks down the most vulnerable members suffer the greatest.
This is a lesson my wife and I have learned over the past seven years. I hesitate to share what I am about to, but I think it’s important. I don’t like reading Christian biographies that leave you believing that the pastor or missionary was a Christian superhero. Reluctantly, I share this in an attempt to be transparent.
When we began Living Bread Ministries almost seven years ago we had no financial backers. We knew that starting something from scratch would require us to show fruit before we could hope to see widespread support. (Not that the Lord couldn’t provide, but we felt led from the beginning that there would be a price to be paid and we surrendered to that.) Naively, we did think that relatively soon people would see the value in what we were setting out to do and rally behind us.
However, the Lord in his sovereignty had a different plan. Not only was he calling us to church plant among the poor, but he would teach us to relate to and understand the poor in far deeper ways than we realized. Since beginning LBM in 2004 our family has lived below the US poverty level which for a family of five is $25,991 per year. (Keep in mind that our home is in the US not abroad.) Until this year we lived significantly below that amount and in the first few years we lived at half or less. We have never been on government assistance, with the exception of our kids having Medicaid (which, to be perfectly honest, I am embarrassed about). To survive we minimized our standard of living as low as possible and worked multiple jobs. I do not share this to boast or impress people with our level of commitment. Any faith, perseverance, or endurance we have is simply a gift of God’s grace. I share this to illustrate how the Lord has revealed to us the loneliness of poverty.
We often feel isolated and alone, amidst multitudes of friends and family. We have lived almost this entire time with no disposable income. We stopped going to functions, because we had no money. Our friends would take us to lunch etc, but we soon started finding excuses not to go. No one wants to be the guy who always has to be paid for. We don’t feel as connected today as we once did. I don’t blame others, much of this is our own fault.
We have also withdrawn from people because we feel out of place. We feel like people don’t get us or that our lifestyle makes them uncomfortable. (Again, we are not blaming others it’s probably our own paranoia). It’s difficult to go to functions, when you are secretly worried about how you will buy food for your children, and listen to people complain about how their perfectly good home or car are not nice enough. It was embarrassing to have people over when our 30 something year old double-wide is so drafty that we couldn’t afford to heat it above 60 degrees or cool it below 80. The isolation that resulted from these things has taught us to relate to the poor and needy.
Isolation has also resulted from lack of ministry supporters. I readily admit it is sin and self-focused but when you are barely scrapping by and you are unsuccessfully raising personal support you have a tendency to get discouraged. You begin to think things like “no one cares about us” or “my kids are suffering and people don’t care”. It also assaults your manhood that while working hard and obeying the Lord you cannot provide for your family. All of this leads to further withdrawal and isolation.
I doubt any of our family or friends had any idea about this struggle, but I share it now to illustrate the loneliness of poverty and to encourage people to reach out to the poor and needy. We still struggle with these thoughts and in fact I have been battling them for the past couple of weeks. In God’s providence the timing of the sermon last night was no coincidence. I hope, sharing this now, helps someone.
We have lost much materially, and done without a lot of the world’s goods for the last seven years. It has been hard; Bárbara and I have shed many tears. However, we have not gone hungry and our bills have been paid. We have never both been discouraged at the same time. With the exception of short periods of discouragement we have experienced greater joy than we ever thought possible. Our marriage is stronger, and we are closer to the Lord than we were seven years ago. We would love to have people partner with us to help provide for our family, but our joy is not contingent upon it. Our joy is found in loving and serving Jesus by loving and serving the least among us.