Fridays I usually spend midday in Colcord, OK, which is a tiny town out in the middle of a bunch of farm land. I visit “my girls,” girls who attend the support group I run. Each time I go out there something new happens: I realize more of their needs, I am frustrated by their lack of motivation, I am frustrated by the lack of work in the area, I enjoy hugs and kisses from their kids, I meet a new pet, I am excited by another step forward they are taking, I am discouraged by the two steps back they took…Today I got another picture of what it means to live below the poverty line in America.
For most of us, housing is not a huge issue. We need a roof over our heads, so we fork over the cash to make the down payment, sign the lease or mortgage agreement, and move into a house, apartment, condo, or townhouse. When you don’t happen to have $500 (or $1000 or $1500), what do you do? How do you pay the first month’s rent and the down payment to turn on the electricity?
Add a whole bunch of other issues to that situation: lack of food (or too much junk food), outstanding warrants, poor housing conditions, corrupt landlords, no transportation, social workers constantly threatening to take children away because of poor living conditions, etc. and the whole thing snowballs. There absolutely is no easy answer.
A lot of people I talk to think that the poor are just too lazy to find a job, but I am coming to the conclusion that there is a lot set up against people living in generational poverty. In a lot of ways it seems like the government/welfare/charities promote this system. There is no one out there (at least in my area) giving the poor an opportunity to feel good about their lives. It’s hard to find a job that you are qualified for when you don’t have a diploma. How do you navigate this who paperwork system? It seems like when people are just handed money in their need, there is no honor in that. They become a statistic. Then the next time they have a need, it becomes a game to figure out who can give the money.
Why do we treat poor people like this? We ignore them. Walk past them. But then we throw money at them and feel good about ourselves, like we have solved all their problems. I believe that Jesus is all about healing, taking the broken people that we all are and renewing us, giving us new life. I’m not knocking donations or giving to charity, but I think at some point we need to take a long hard look at the system. Then I think we will realize that we have pushed the poor into a corner that we don’t have to visit unless we want to feel proud of ourselves. They become ‘those people’ and not our neighbors.
God, teach us to be the good samaritan.