Thursday, January 3, 2013

Poverty and Perspectives

Lakeside Orphanage (where George lived)
George and I met for the first time in Kenya, Africa more than three years ago, in the small orphanage where he lived and attended secondary school.  This month, George is spending time with his American family in Texas, a family close in friendship to my own.  George grew up as an orphan living in utter poverty, but with support from Christian Relief Fund and his sponsor family, he is now a law student with a bright future ahead of him.

It is easy to become friends with George.  Articulate and friendly, he is eager to learn everything he can about the world.  His dream is to become successful so that he may turn and help raise his country out of poverty while extending support and encouragement to the many neglected orphans and widows in Kenya.

During my time with George over my own school holiday, I've been inspired by his story (which I will hopefully be able to share with you at a later date) and by his perspectives on our excessive American culture.

George has been asking if I could take him to see the poorest neighborhoods in our city.  He wanted to see how they compared with the conditions of the impoverished villages of Kenya.  I agreed to take him, knowing uncomfortably that he would be taken by surprise.  Having been to Africa as well as served within the inner city of my own town, I have seen the vast differences in our definitions of poverty.  I tried to explain this to George and he was quick to agree with me, saying that he understood that the poorest areas of America were relative poverty and the poorest regions of Africa were absolute poverty.

With that in mind, we went out yesterday to drive through some of the worst neighborhoods in my city.  Despite my warnings, George was shocked.  "This is what we consider to be middle class in Kenya," he said as we passed the rundown homes with board-covered windows, patchy roofs, and crumbling porches.  The more we drove, the more George began to shake his head, amazed at what we considered to be relative poverty.

George asked if there were hungry children in America, so I explained that they were hungry because their parents were on drugs and often would forget to feed them, and he exclaimed, "They have parents?"  He was astonished that the poorest children in our city still had guardians to take care of them and give them shelter.  

We also went to visit Cadillac Ranch, a tourist attraction that George has been eager to see.  If you haven't heard of Cadillac Ranch, it's a big attraction in the Texas Panhandle, consisting of ten Cadillacs buried halfway into the ground.  Again, George was amazed.  He was not angry or disgusted at the waste of wealth, only astonished and excited to have seen such a funny place.  He made sure we took pictures, explaining that his African friends would never otherwise believe him that Americans are so wealthy that we place such nice cars into the ground for fun.  Again, I was ashamed.

In December, we celebrated George's birthday for the first time in his life.  For the first time, he blew out the candles on his cake.  For the first time, he tore open wrapping paper to receive birthday gifts.  For the first time, the Birthday Song was sung to him.

He also celebrated an American Christmas.  We attended the candlelight service at our church on Christmas Eve.  It was beautiful.  My mom said, "George, are there candlelight services in Kenya?"

He smiled.  "No, if we bought candles, there would be nothing left to buy food."

Little things have been a delight to George, like having dogs as house pets (there isn't any such thing where he comes from), most American food (he tried his first pizza, Mexican food, hamburgers, and lemonade on this trip), YouTube, and the funny-looking exercise equipment in our barn.  Other things have been disliked, like skiing (and snow in general), crab (and the live lobsters in the tank at Red Lobster), and ice in drinks.  The American experience is such an adventure, and it has been a source of enjoyment to watch someone take it all in with as much joy as George has.

Although I have seen Africa myself, watching a Kenyan orphan embrace America with astonishment and wide eyes has been such a reminder of how blessed we truly are.  This month, I have gone back and forth between feeling great shame and great thankfulness.  No matter what trials we have, no matter what crises come our way, we are so very blessed.  It is so important to thank God for what He has given us. 

Last night, George explained to my family, "What is the difference between you and a young girl in Somalia?  The Lord is the only thing that has allowed you to be born where you are.  You are blessed.  Remember He has placed you here for a reason.  You must help those who have not been as blessed as you." 

I am thankful that George has had the opportunity to spend a month of adventure in the United States, for his sake and for ours.  He inspires every American that he meets. 

Although I am an American college student who has never wanted for anything and cannot ever truly grasp what it means to live in poverty, over the last few years I have been able to catch glimpses of what poverty is and it has shattered both my heart and my perspectives on life and priorities.  I asked the Lord to break my heart for what breaks His and He has done just that.  I am certain I want to spend my life fighting poverty and fulfilling James 1:27, which states that pure and faultless religion is to help orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Today, take a moment to thank God for the blessings in your life.  Also be sure to sit back and evaluate what you are doing to help the hungry in this world.  Ask Christ to break your heart for what breaks His.  It will rock your world.

1 comment:

  1. This story breaks my heart, but then again it makes me want to go to Africa even more! I'm hoping that someday I'll be able to do mission work in Africa, and work with orphans.
    Thanks for the post!