Investing in what works

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Poverty makes me so incredibly angry and frustrated.

To watch my dear friends struggle from day to day, working hard but barely surviving and not knowing how to help them in a way that will actually bring change has been so hard and maddening.

I have spent countless hours listening, watching and trying to understand what life is like for the poor. I have been actively involved in several peoples lives, trying to help, but knowing most of what I was doing was not very helpful.

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This is what I now know…

No THING including food, clothes, shoes, toys, medication, or even a house can bring any form of long term transformation.

It may temporary lighten the burden for a short amount of time, but things just can’t change a life.

When your poor, you are just getting by.  You have enough for the day… not the week, the month or the year.  This results from living in crisis every time an expected or unexpected expense comes up such as sickness, a school cost, a birthday, or anything else beyond simple living expenses such as shelter, food, and water.

When your goal is to survive, everything else seems less important, even good things like school, a steady full time job, holiday celebrations, routines for your family, or going to church.  Living day by day is stressful and exhausting, leaving very little time to dream, plan, and work towards a different future.

My friend stopped by awhile ago, asking for a ride. They had just been to the hospital, their toddler was sick with a cold and had a high fever they couldn’t get to go down. They had spent the morning in the hospital. The treatment and medication was free but they had no money for the way home to their village thats a 10 minute drive from town. The simple cold of their daughter resulted in 2 days of no work for the father. It also resulted in a small birthday party they had planned for 3 family members to be cancelled. A couple days later it brought the oldest son to my house asking for money for shoes he needed but could no longer afford. It also led to a phone call I got the next afternoon from the dad asking for money to take his wife to the doctor who was now sick with the same cold.

What did I do?  This time, I said no.

It may sound heartless but after way to many yeses to what seems like good things… diapers, grocery money, medicine, and many other life essentials, I know I am not helping them.  I am guilty of enabling this family to live in survival mode, teaching them that they can always ask for a hand out instead of finding a way to help them selves. I care deeply for them, and truly hate to see them suffering, but I am more motivated than ever to be a part of long term transformation.

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I may not have all the answers but there are a few things I KNOW make a difference and bring about real changes…

The first is Jesus.  Knowing Him, changes every thing.  Of course I know this personally but I have seen a huge difference in the quality of life in the people who’s life have been transformed by the love of Jesus.  Knowing Him does not mean that the poor get rich but that the poor can have peace, joy and comfort through their difficult circumstances. It also transforms the values in their homes, affecting how couples treat each other, how they care for and love their children and what they believe is possible for the future.  If at the end of the day sharing the love and hope of Jesus is not a priority, not much of our “help” really matters.

The second is education.  It’s really the golden ticket for a kids life to be different then their parents.  It’s almost impossible for a child to break a family cycle of poverty without getting an education.  In the case of most kids I know, this means simply making it past elementry school.  Anything else beyond that is very rare, especially for girls, who are often married off by the time they should be starting high school.  If you want to invest in something that can truly make a difference in the fight against poverty, invest in the education of a child!

The last area I want to mention today is new skills.  Knowledge truly is power.  So teaching some one a new skill or helping them improve or add on to the ones they already have can truly make an impact towards changing their life.  It could lead to better job opportunities, increased income, and the gift of pride and dignity to provide for their own family.  What could be better than that?

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That family that I mentioned above, the one I said “no”  to?  Well, we have  invested in them in much better ways.  Saul was temporarily able to give the Dad a part time job  through his work at the time doing construction where he learned new skills.  We have been able to  support their family through many family crisis situations, offering advice, prayer and counsel when needed and are happy to report they are a healthy Christian family.  Their oldest son just graduated from high school, and will soon continue his secondary education, which is a huge accomplishment for some one in his community.  He is currently working for an after school program, where he is tutoring other kids in the community and gaining many new leadership skills.  I can’t say this is a “and they lived happily ever after” ending but I can say that this family has had a huge improvement in the quality of their life, and had nothing to do with the free stuff they were given.  Oh and best of all, my friends don’t ask me for money any more.  They simply don’t need to.

I know a lot of people with big hearts, who want to help people in difficult situations.  Their are so many ways to help, but few bring long term results.  So this is my suggestion…

Jesus (evangelism and discipleship), education and new skills.  These are the areas I know are worth investing in because I have seen it firsthand, and they are the areas where we personally invest our own time here in Mexico.   I am not saying you shouldn’t support ministries/organizations that focus on other needs but I am saying that to help a person move away from a life of poverty, find hope and be able to change their family for the better these are the areas where I would encourage you to invest your time, money and resources.

Don’t make some of the mistakes we have and invest in what matters most!

 

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