Poverty is hard to grasp. Living amongst plenty, those seven letters (p-o-v-e-r-t-y) can be like abstract little bubbles floating in the air, not tethered down to anything real or concrete.

Have you ever experienced something here in the States that really made you get it?

Several months ago here at Compassion, we had a speaker at our weekly chapel. He had a pitcher full of 30,000 bbs. He told us about how 30,000 children under 5 die each day of preventable causes. Now, I’m no stranger to numbers. I could rattle off the numbers of poverty till your eyes cross.

But this speaker slowly poured 30,000 bbs into a metal basin as we sat and listened. Each ping that represented a life was like getting stuck by a pin. And they kept coming and coming and coming. Just as you thought there surely couldn’t be any more, that he must be nearing the end of the bbs, they just kept pouring. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping.

And for all my knowledge of numbers, this left me undone. God used the experience to break through my heart’s armor of cold, sterile numbers to soften it to the reality of human suffering.

I wrote Hope Lives with a prayer that God would use it to soften others’ hearts toward what he cares about so deeply. Now I’m writing a follow-up to this book that will help small groups experience and pray for the needs in this world.

So I need your help! Have you experienced something at your church or with your youth group or with your family that really helped you empathize with those in need or understand what poverty means? For example, I know of some families who have tried to eat for one day spending just $1, the amount millions of families around the world live on each day. I know another Compassion employee who used this photo as the artwork over his dining room table.

What great ideas do you have that you would like to share? How did your experience effect you?

Fine print: OK, my publisher said I need to include this here: By sharing your idea, you’re giving me permission to use this idea in publication without any form of compensation, other than my deepest gratitude and eternal friendship.

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  1. Tan
    Jul 14, 2008
    at 6:47 am

    When I was seven I sent a teddy to East Africa with a family friend. She returned with a photo and a story of a little girl living in poverty who treasured my toy.

    A little hard for you to replicate in a crowd, but that moment I decided to move to Africa and help wherever God could use me- 17 years later i’m watching that decision becoming reality.

    I’m so thankful to that missionary for taking the time to teach me that my generosity could make a difference.

  2. Amy
    Jul 14, 2008
    at 9:53 am

    I don’t have any great ideas at the moment, but I have seen the BB demonstration before at church (might have been our pastor that was your speaker, because I’ve heard he spoke at Compassion recently). It just breaks your heart and makes you want to make it stop, doesn’t it?

    I will try to think of other things I’ve seen done that might help you out.

  3. Jul 14, 2008
    at 1:50 pm

    I haven’t had the opportunity, but this is something I wanted to do at Creation Festival when the place was packed out with 70,000 people…

    I wanted to have everyone stand, and then have 1/2 the crowd on one side just lie down and (for lack of a better term), “play dead”, and have the standing side just absorb the image of what 30,000 dead truly looks like.

    Then switch sides.

    Maybe Pastor Harry will let me up there one day to do it. I was close last year, but alas, I got bumped by someone who wanted to shoot T-Shirts into the crowd.

    Oh well.

  4. Mary
    Jul 14, 2008
    at 7:14 pm

    Hi Amber,
    I wish I had a great idea to share, but can’t think of one at this moment.
    I was wondering when your new book will be released? I’m definitely looking foward to reading another book by you.

  5. Jul 14, 2008
    at 8:01 pm

    It doesn’t necessarily have to do with poverty, but I’ve heard of having a jar with pennies/BBs/etc that signify the number of days you have left to live. With each day, you wake up and throw one away meaning you never get yesterday back. You’re running out of days to make a difference on Earth … what are you doing with today?! If I estimate 53 more years to live (if I live to 90 and I’m 37 now) I have 19,345 BBs in the jar. I’d prefer to not use pennies as I don’t want to throw away almost $200!!!

  6. Jul 14, 2008
    at 10:03 pm

    Earlier this month there was a post titled “Message to Mothers” – it was powerful and made poverty very real (in my face real) for me.

  7. Amber Van Schooneveld
    Jul 15, 2008
    at 7:17 am

    Thanks for your comments and ideas, everyone! If anyone wants to check out some ideas on learning about poverty for the family, there are some on the compassion home page. Just click on “Summer Boredom Busters” on the left-hand side of the page.

    Mary, thanks for your comment! The book will be coming out next summer from Group Publishing.

  8. Brooke Burns
    Jul 22, 2008
    at 1:34 am

    My husband, two children and I live in Latin America serving as missionaries. Earlier this year, I was robbed of all the belongings in my purse and car. This included some important identification papers as well as all cash and credit cards we had at the time. Right before the robbery, there had been a mix-up in a money transfer from our bank in the US, so all the cash we had available to us had been in my purse. My car needed gas and there was very little food in the pantry. We had no way to get cash, use credit or even apply for a local new card because all our identification had been stolen. With what little cash we had on hand, I had to choose between putting gas in the car or buying groceries. It was the first time in my life I felt as though I was trapped and had NO OPTIONS. This is what sets the poor and non-poor apart: those who have options and those who don’t. Our family had a reality dose of what that feels like. A couple of days into this situation, our son asked if we could order a pizza for dinner. I could honestly say to him, “that one pizza would use up all the money we have for food and gas for the next three days.” When my husband and I realized the opportunity we had to really learn something as a family, we chose not to call relatives (we had the option) in the states or even ask other missionary friends for a loan. We dealt with it and tried to learn from our option-less friends how to live that way. My idea would be to somehow place your family in a similar situation and do it for at least three days…

  9. Ann
    Nov 4, 2008
    at 6:32 pm

    This idea isn’t exactly on poverty, but more on what our “treasures” are. I read about it in the book ‘Heaven for Kids.’
    It suggested taking a “family field trip” to a junkyard or a dump. Look around at all the stuff that was once someone’s “treasure.” Think about how many things we want so badly, but after a few years are discarded for something newer or more advanced.
    I thought it was a neat idea and I hope someone else will benefit from it.

  10. Nov 15, 2008
    at 2:45 pm

    Ruby Payne (at http://www.rubypayne.com) has some excellent materials on how those who live in poverty view the world differently than those who do not live in poverty. A speaker and reading really opened my eyes to what I often see around me. Trips to Mexico–not the coast but walking around villages, inviting people to events and really looking at them–has helped, too. I feel I have a better understanding of where some of the families I work with have come from and why they respond to life the way they do. I think the key is relly looking at the world around us, keeping our eyes open.

    I sometimes think about where I live, and how much I’d like to move. But then I realize I’m living within my means, and some of the people who live in my neighborhood are just barely hanging on. How does this relate to poverty? With the variety of families in this area, some are definitely “impoverished,” while others range between a variety of levels of “middle class.” By opening my eyes and looking around me, I realize the wealth of information and how I can help right outside my front door. Lord, teach me to do what I to improve the lives of my neighbors.

  11. Pete
    Apr 11, 2011
    at 5:48 pm

    Poverty was made real for me while working with our Volunteers In Missions Team in Gulfport, MS, to help with recovery after Hurricane Katrina and also working with the VIM Team at the Redbud Mission in KY.

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