This week I was at the Mobilization to End Poverty put on by Sojourners, an organization with the mission "to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world."
This week has been particularly strange for me. I returned to DC in January after being out of the country for the fall and I feel like I have changed completely in this past year. A year ago, I wanted to change the world, right now... I want to love my neighbor. I don't want to be a social worker, international development officer, foreign correspondent, educator or any other type of job without first being a "good neighbor" wherever I happen to live. That is not so simple but, also not so complicated.
I feel like one thing that wasn't clear to me all week was the definition of poverty. I mean, I believe that significant structural/social change can happen (it has happened in the past with the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, etc.) but, I don't know if 'poverty' is as clear of a social problem to be able to 'end'. Unless we are talking about 'child hunger', 'sex trafficking', or other specific things --I'm not sure if we will be able to 'end poverty' in the same way that was so passionately announced during the conference this week.
Poverty is not just the absence of economic resources and political will (even though these are important) but it is also sustained by the absence of relationships, social links to help and support.
I went to the session on Children, Race, and Poverty and heard the dire statistics about childhood poverty and dropout rates. One in three african-american boys will drop out of high school. One in three of the boys in my second grade class. Then, I went to my 2nd grade classroom yesterday afternoon to have one of my beautiful 7 year old boys start hitting his head on his desk, on the wall, and on the floor saying, "I want to kill myself. I just want to die. Life isn't worth living." He's 7 years old!
I wanted to burst into tears as I held him and told him of his worth and uniqueness. That is poverty. He has clothes and goes to school but, he comes home and his mother isn't home, his brothers don't make food for him, so my little 7 year old ends up making himself dinner, "I eat hot dogs" he says. Can we end this type of poverty?
I have felt so burdened by these things and even though I actually feel an overwhelming amount of hope because I see people building relationships with 'the poor', but I don't know if we will actually be able to 'end poverty' quite so simply.
This morning, when I was walking to work I saw David, a homeless man who always encourages me to not stop having compassion on people. He never asks me for money, he just asks me if I remember his name. I always stop if I see him, even if I'm late to work. He told me that last week he wanted to commit suicide and that he doesn't know how long he can put up with the circumstances he is in. This morning he told me, "You cannot change the world, but you can continue to have compassion."
How do we define poverty? Can we really "end poverty"?