Thursday, September 29, 2011

Seeing the Poor

I needed to get out of myself. Out of my head. My doubts. My worries, insecurities. Too much focus on the circumstances, the failings—both mine and others, but mainly mine.

So, I remembered the boxes. The ones that college kids were holding at the main intersection in town while we stopped on red. I read the words quickly.

“Please give donations for the victims of a fire in Beringin.“

I was just there—in Beringin—last week, with a visitor from the States, showing her about life behind the main street, behind the stores and the decent-looking houses.

Life on the docks, where people build houses on stilts over the ocean so they don’t have to buy property in order to live. The whole neighborhood—hundreds of houses—are connected by wood.

And every couple years or so, a fire will break out and wipe out an entire area. I explained all this to my friend as we walked on the narrow path that stretched away from land, joining the houses and the lives.

The next day after our visit, my words came true and some 200 houses were destroyed by a fire—everything lost by people who already had almost nothing.

So, when I needed to stop thinking about my weaknesses, I went to see others’ losses. And I saw something amazing.

Next week, I plan to share what I saw there, and at two other places in town (an orphanage and the home of my own house worker) in a series of posts about poverty.

After six years of living in Indonesia, I still have more questions than answers. What causes poverty? Can it be stopped? Am I supposed to do something? What can I do? Give money? Not ever give money? Teach? Listen? Feed?

And they keep coming, these questions of mine. Is it OK to be rich? (And yes, I, and probably you, are considered rich when compared to most of the world’s standard of living.) Is there anything good about being poor?

I live in a place where the poor are close, but it’s still easy to distance myself. I see poverty every day, and yet I close my eyes. I have friends—close friends—who struggle, and yet I stop feeling sympathy. I am here to help, and yet I doubt that it is even possible to make a difference.

So, this week, I seek and ask and look and touch. And I write, desiring to hear from you. Are you a worker in a far flung place, living among the poor? What have you learned? Or do you wish to be there, right now selling what you have so you can gain something more valuable—purpose? Do you live in the States or a country where most went to college and own cars that drive on overpasses sheltering the homeless?

Do you fear and hope and see and ignore and write checks and give cans and assume the worst of the guy with his hand out and feel guilty? If so, then you are like me. Will you join me as we seek to see again?

Check back on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (Indonesia time) next week, and write me a comment or email: if you wish to ask or answer or tell a story.


  1. It's late and there is much to write, but I will suggest a book to you that has opened my eyes greatly and is in step beautifully with the Word of God on this topic: 'When Helping Hurts' By Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett. Our church required me to read this before spending some time in Liberia, West Africa last fall and it changed the way I look at and approach poverty in a big way.
    I look forward to your posts and please know that we hold your family dear as we pray for you and think of you often.
    Thanks for writing.

  2. Tiffany--thank you, sweet friend. I am putting that book on my wish list and hope to read it soon. Thanks so much for the suggestion! Thanks also for your encouragement and for taking the time to tell me your thoughts.


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