Two quotes from those who have decided to live as the poor among the poor:
“I’m not as serious about intentional poverty as some folks, really. I live in a poor rural area in Alabama. The hardest part is not having family around. But I live in a one bedroom apartment, where I work and live. Sometimes I take in a street friend, if the weather’s particularly bad, but I’m not making supreme sacrifices or anything. I just don’t live the lifestyle that my income insists I should. Or how I could.
“ I just couldn’t do it anymore. I grew up rich—what most people call the ‘middle class’, you know. And I didn’t really think about it much. I mean, about the way we lived. We never called ourselves ‘rich’ because that term was reserved for billionaires or people who were way over our level. The folks who lived in the hills. It wasn’t until I went overseas that I realized just how wrong we were. Sure, when I was in Manila I met a lot of people who socially weren’t that different than how I grew up. They told me how the beggars were all criminals or were oppressed. How it was almost a crime to give to them. I paid attention and avoided the beggars and the trash-pickers. I only visited the shantytown once. I prayed for someone there, but she didn’t speak English. Anyway, I noticed the poor, but didn’t really pay attention to them, you know?
“After months there in the Philippines, I came home. On Christmas Eve. I remember waking up at 4 in the morning on Christmas—still adjusting to the time zone—and walking on the silent streets. How peaceful and serene it was. But by 9am all that serenity was exchanged for greed and mayhem. Paper strewn about everywhere, pupils dilated, gifts enthused over and then immediately forgotten in the excess of the next gift. It was like some kind of drug orgy. And it was all about stuff.
“This opened my eyes to the difference. We really are rich. And we misuse what we have. Christmas is the extreme, but it isn’t the only time. We get what we want when we want it. I just didn’t want to live that way any more. I won’t. Sure, it upsets my family that I won’t spend Christmas with them anymore. And it hurt them when I told them why. But in my life among these people is pure and clean, without the filth of stuff constantly dirtying me.”
-Rose Parker, 28, Alabama, USA
“Honestly, I never had any intention of being poor. I don’t consider poverty to be a holy lifestyle or especially blessed of God. I just know what I have been called to do, and that is to work with the Akulas here in Peru.
“So years ago I began working with them, learning their language. I didn’t live here among the villages all the time. Four days a week, I lived at the mission compound where we lived a life as normal as possible, where we typed out our notes and compared experiences with each other. This went on for years.
“But there was something wrong. The Akulas were always friendly enough and willing to help, but they were also reserved with us in a way they were not with each other. After five years and having enough language to hold reasonable conversations and having begun some translation work, yet relationally there were no breakthroughs. If we were ever going to give the people the gospel, then we would have to relate to them. To be friends, not just co-workers.
“Then I overheard a strange snipet of conversation by two Akula men. They said something about how “that white goes to her evil,” or something like that. I asked my translation helper about their comment, thinking that it might be about me. She shamefacedly told me that almost all the village believed the rumor that I had three husbands back in my mansion, where I had many coloreds as slaves. I was shocked and asked my helper if she believed that and she couldn’t answer me.
“I left the village that day and returned to the compound and wept and prayed and wept again. I was so hurt. Then I realized that it was my own fault. If I was going to work with the Akulas—or really, if anyone is going to do ministry among any people— then I need to live with them, like them, all the time. They need to see who I really am, so they can decide for themselves if what I say is true. But as long as I have a secret, hidden life, then they will never trust me, because they won’t know what I’m doing during that time.
“It took me a few weeks, but I arranged to live with the Akulas all the time. I might take a week away now and then, but really, I’m just more comfortable living with them. Their lives are just so much simpler and without the complications of civilization. I don’t miss the other lifestyle, how I grew up. And my ministry has been so much more effective. I have many friends among the women and the men have welcomed a couple to live in the village as well. There is a church here. And I know it wouldn’t have happened without someone living like them. It happened to be me, but I think it could have been anybody.”
-Edith Sherwood, 67, Brazil
(The quotes and persona are fictional-- Steve)