We set foot in the local recreation centre. My mother walks in unashamed; I trail behind her bashfully. There is no one sitting at the reception desk the first time, so we walk right past to where the showers are located. At once, I expect everyone to turn their laser-like glares in our direction and cause us to turn away in shame. But no one notices and we proceed undisturbed.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see a couple of ladies, young and old, in swimsuits. A swirl of neon pink and green patterns dance before me, but as I look down at the items in front of us, my imagination hits a wall. We will not be going swimming.
Indeed, that day, our intent was to hit the showers after what would have been a few days without water. As my mother had stopped sending in hydro payments — she just couldn’t keep up after awhile — the “big guys” in control over at the head office decided to shut off the power.
One thing about poverty is that, at times, it appears to limit and shame you. For nearly half of the world’s population — the more than three billion people who live on less than $2.50 a day —poverty shames them by not affording any place to sleep at night, no luxury three-course meal or, in some cases, no meal at all. Poverty for this group means an undying hunger that can’t easily be sated.
When you are poor, it becomes difficult to dream about the future, whether it’s a desire to go to school, travel abroad or own a home one day.
While poverty has many faces, the way people often approach it tends to be the same. Society’s attitudes have often demonstrated a lack of understanding when it comes to dealing with people who find themselves in poverty’s grip. We’re quick to walk away and apportion blame.
During my mother’s extended time of unemployment, people were quick to offer “helpful” advice: “Why don’t you do this?” As in, “Go back to school.” “Land a full-time job.” Or, perhaps, “Get welfare.” She had tried all of them, but such “solutions” are not always easily accessible when you find yourself in an out-of-control vortex. I, too, experienced similar responses.
Not once did anyone directly offer to help either of us with our individual job searches or monetary assistance. Many times, we were left to fend for ourselves. Constantly, we had to drain our bank accounts to purchase groceries and pay the bills. As a freelancer at the time, I would end up having to stay late in the local Tim Hortons coffee shop every night just to access Wi-Fi.
We are now in a better place, but the financial battle continues. Not just for us, but also for many of the people around us. (We will share one or two stories in an upcoming feature.) Another thing we learned about poverty is that it often comes with fear and isolation.
I have come to see something in common between my background of living with a mental illness and experiences with poverty — in hard times, there is no better opportunity for the church community to reveal the love of Christ than to band together and aid someone who would especially welcome support.
In an especially urgent time, my mother reached out to a local Christian charity that provides furniture and other items for people in need. This charity helped us out on more than one occasion.
The first time, its people arrived with two brand new couches to fill a prolonged empty space in our living room that had stood there since another move. My mother cried. The beds we both now sleep on every night have also been special gifts from this charity.
Being recipients of such acts of kindness is a beautiful thing. Many people during Christ’s time also witnessed such love in the form of great, miraculous acts He performed. Quite a number of those touched by Christ’s ministry would have been considered poor and in need. Although Jesus often referred to this group as “the least of these,” they were not any less deserving or valuable to him (Matthew 25:40).
Through his use of this term, Christ was challenging the societal perceptions of his time, as many people thought those who lacked necessities and material possessions were automatically beneath those who had more riches. However, their worth as described in the Bible is clear. With Christ, they possessed all things (2 Corinthians 6:10, 2 Corinthians 8:9).
We tend to steer away from what we see as “giving people handouts” because we make the assumption that doing so will only cripple them and prevent them from doing anything worthwhile for themselves. Yet, an act of kindness to someone in need should never be seen as a waste. It should be our obligation as a community to help remove the shame and de-humanization that poverty places on people unexpectedly. We can do this by exhibiting generosity with no strings attached.
A handout here and there is necessary at times to help people move out of their desperate situations and spring them to their feet. Once they are offered a hand to propel them forward, the next step is to take the time and provide the right tools so they can pursue better lives for themselves and their families.
This can manifest itself in various ways, whether by assisting them with their work searches or even offering them a job directly. It can also mean providing a loan or grant or giving them mentorship that will help them start their own business. When we learn to invest more in the people around us, we in turn will inevitably contribute to the building of stronger foundations in our own communities. After all, isn’t that just what Jesus did?
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