When the poor become your friends

When we first moved back here, I saw the poor distinctly different.  They were the ones we were helping,  serving, and reaching out to.  Although I cared for them deeply, I did not see them as equals, and I honestly had no idea I felt that way.  It wasn’t till I heard it from a friends mouth.  A pastor from Canada had asked us for a project and we decided we wanted to build a house for  a lady who’s children were in the daycare I had worked at for the past year.  When this fellow Canadian talked about the lady and her family she referred to them as our “friends”.  I realized at that moment that I was not thinking of them as a friends but as just people we were helping.  I didn’t like it.   That was when I started to see things differently.  I now proudly call that same lady a dear friend and have since made many others in the community that she now lives in.  Since then a whole shift has gradually taken place in how I see and do many things since then and I wanted to share a few things my friends have unknowingly taught me.


When the poor become your friends…

You hate calling them “the poor”.  I wouldn’t give any of my any other friends such demeaning labels, and I can’t stand my friends being known under such negative terms.  Sure my friends may not have much stuff, but they are hard working, intelligent people with beautiful personalities and names.  They each have a story to tell just like you and I do.  They don’t deserve to be looked down on in any way, or thought of  as mere statistic that no one can relate to.


When the poor become your friends…

You stop carrying around your camera all the time looking for a good shot of the sad looking neighbourhood or meager living conditions.  How many times have you brought your camera over to a friends house and took photos of their dirty laundry, messy kids bedrooms or their kids after they had played out in the yard and were full of dirt?  Probably none because it would very offensive and intrusive to do so.  I am ashamed to say I have been guilty of exploiting my friends with my photos, but am proud to say I don’t do it any more.  I do bring my camera with me once and awhile, and I take the same kind of photos I would with any other friends… photos of birthday celebrations, of my kids playing with their friends, the crafts and artwork of a dear amiga, photos of new babies that I print off later as gifts to families who don’t have a camera (or many photos) or something I love about the beauty I see in their culture.   Most of the photos I take are of people I know by name and I have a good long standing relationships with.   All of the photos I take are with the permission of the person in the photo.  They aren’t to show off my good works or their different way of living.


When the poor become your friends…

You don’t give them your junk.  Like many other families we try to get rid of things we do not use any more.  We always have an ongoing donation pile of clothes and shoes that have been outgrown or unused and an assortment of other things including toys, house wares, books, and decor to give away.  When you are used to being able to drop off your unwanted stuff at a local thrift store, or donation drop off centre, it’s pretty easy to drop off any old unwanted item.  We don’t have that option here.  We can either give it to a local ministry (where we personally know the people who work there) or to families that we know.  So basically our donations one way or another go to our friends.  That sure changes what you view is acceptable to give.  I refuse to give away anything that is broken, stained, has holes in it, works sometimes, is missing an important piece, is faded, ripped, expired or is just completely useless.  This may seem obvious, but believe me, it’s not.  I have been on the receiving end as an individual and representing a ministry many many times and have received all kinds of junk that had to be thrown out because it was not useful anymore.  If you don’t want it for any of the reasons mentioned above, no one else does either.  Don’t give your scraps to those who have less than you.  Send them to the curb.  If you want more thoughts on this topic please read a post my friend Carla wrote a couple of years ago after helping us sort through a bunch of donations where we were working.


When the poor becomes your friends…

You spend your money differently.  I have a hard time being in bigs stores full of stuff I know most people don’t actually need.  I also have a hard time being on-line seeing all the new, trendy “must haves” such as clothes, purses, and baby stuff that are apparently considered “needs” in our rich, selfish home culture.  Some times I get sucked in and want those things too… but then I remember my friends.  The ones who made a make-shift baby crib with a crate and a hammock.  Or the ones who’s only “newish” clothes they get are the ones handed out to them in pity.  I remember my friends who hardly ever celebrate their kids birthdays because they simply can’t afford to.  Or the kids who wear the same stained, too small, school uniform 2 years in a row because a new one is too big of an expense for the family to afford.  I still get sucked in.  I still want nice things, and I am sure I will always like to make beautiful spaces for my family to find comfort and refuge in at the  of the day, but I refuse to spend a small fortune in doing so.  Buying and spending are no longer the centre of my life.   We try to live simply, give generously, and invest what we have in others and not ourselves.  We don’t alway do the right thing but we are very aware of the needs of others and are convicted that we can and should live differently.

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When the poor become  your friends…

You want to help better than you did before.  We have helped our friends in many different ways.  Many times its been in emergency situations such as a ride to the doctor, buying medicine when we knew they couldn’t afford it, a bag of food when we knew their was no work or even money to help pay a bill they were behind on.  We have even invested more in our friends by helping them get a new house built, providing school supplies and uniforms, celebrating their birthdays with gifts and parties, and having our home open for  them when they needed some where to be safe or dry.  All are things I would do for any friend who was in a difficult situation, because I care about them and don’t want to see them suffer.  Now I know that a lot of this help has caused more harm than it was ever meant too.  This help has cost my friends some of their pride and dignity.  It’s taught them to be be dependent on others instead of God, and has left them in a cycle of poverty they can not get out of.  Now it is clear that my friends need a better kind of help that will go further than the immediate need or emergency of the moment.  My friends need to learn new skills to be able to get better jobs.   Their kids need to be supported in their education with tutoring.  They need to learn how to budget, manage their money, and plan for the future.  They needs to be empowered to care of their own families and communities.  They need friends to help them find the resources to do this, and some one to cheer them on as they make some significant life changes and are transformed from being the helpless to becoming more helpful to those in need.  Not an easy task by any means, but if we really want to help our friends then we need to be willing to invest in them what they are worth receiving so they can have a better quality of life.


Those are just a few of the important lessons I have learned from my dear friends.  I think that as long as we talk about “the poor” in vague impersonal terms as if they were less valuable than we are,  we will continue to treat them that way.  I am so glad God has transformed my view.  Maybe it’s time we all made new friends in unlikely places that challenge how we love and do life?




So what do you think?
  1. Great post Amber! So much is learning as we go (and making mistakes along the way) and seeing people as precious individuals who are each uniquely made in the image of God, rather than statistics or social problems or projects. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and wisdom.

  2. Edgardo says:

    Great post Amber. My favourite so far

  3. Sharon says:

    It’s hard to know how to help someone help themselves. But you have an incredible mind and heart for this. I have faith in you.

    Being “the poor” myself I have had friends “help” me by donating leftover crap. For example, one couple helped with groceries once by giving us frozen fish that had been in their freezer for more than 5 years. The fish was inedible. Thank you for bringing this to people’s attention.

    I’ve always admired you and your family. And I think of you often. I pray for God’s best blessings on you and your family and the people you serve.


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