Poverty’s Shame

Last week a small group of us stood in Juan’s yard in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua, to learn more about him and his family’s life. This was part of a sponsor tour home visit and seven of us branched off from the rest of the group to visit Juan.

The air was hot and still with some pesky flies and mosquitoes buzzing around. Juan’s wife, Brenda, did most of the talking. They have three children, and all of them were sponsored in the local Compassion child development centers.

Three is the maximum number of children from one family that can be enrolled in our sponsorship program, so that alone told me they were in a desperate situation.

A few from the group sat in some plastic chairs in front of their 12 x 12 single-room house made of scrap boards, cinder blocks and a rusting tin roof.

We asked questions about their kids, their jobs, their hopes and dreams, etc. One of their sons and two other local boys were high above us in the branches of the mamón tree, gathering the small fruit to eat or sell, causing small branches and leaves to fall around us from time to time.

At most homes we visit on these trips we are welcomed inside. It was different here. Brenda was embarrassed about how little they had, ashamed of their poverty.

We all knew that Juan and his family were not less than us; they just have less than us. Despite that, their poverty has begun to work in their minds and hearts to cause feelings of shame and embarrassment over their situation.

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juan-and-brenda-ciudad-sandinoWhen we realized this, it was uncomfortable, and we quickly tried to lighten the conversation. We asked how we could pray for them and specifically for Juan — and even then it was Brenda who answered for him.

Not wanting to make the meeting so one-sided, we encouraged them to ask questions of us. Most times, the questions we get are pretty light: does it snow where we live, what church do we attend, etc. I wasn’t prepared for the weight of the question when Juan finally spoke:

“For you, when you help take care of our children, is it easy for you, or is it a sacrifice?”

It’s easy to get caught up in life in America, the richest country and culture in the history of the world.

And by American standards, perhaps I am sacrificing to help children like Juan’s. We don’t have cable, we own and share one car, and we try to curb our desire for new clothes and other things, buying stuff second hand when we can.

But looking at Juan and Brenda and all they have to do to care for their children, the truth, the absolute truth, is that I know nothing of sacrifice.

I have never faced the choices they face daily, and I probably never will.

I don’t have to choose between medicine for a sick child and food for the rest of the family. It wouldn’t even cross my mind to sacrifice my young child’s education to get him out earning money for the family.

I brush up against poverty on these trips, and we sponsor several children and donate in other areas, but looking at their lives it is clear that what we do is easy and requires no true sacrifice on our part.

It is I who should be embarrassed and ashamed, not Juan and Brenda.

Lord Jesus, show me more and more how I can serve you with all that I am, how to truly sacrifice, how to truly lay down my life for others, for You.

26 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Avatar
    Lois May 12, 2009

    I have two sponsored girls:


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    Mike Stephens March 27, 2009

    Helena I am sorry to hear you had depression. I have only been sponsoring about 2.5 years but I keep slowly adding children. I was on the Nicaragua sponsor Tour which this blog is about and just like you I took a job as a Taxi Driver here in Colorado, USA and earned about $5,000 in one month!!! So I used that money to pay for the Philippines Sponsor Tour this June!!! I was just going to tell you from what you said I think going on a Sponsor Tour to visit any of the kids you sponsor would encourage you greatly and also the kids you sponsor!!! I know it is not easy to earn the money in time to go on the trips but I know if I can do it you can too!!! I plan sometimes more than a year ahead to start paying etc. I hope this encourages you and doesn’t make you think it is too hard to get the money for a trip. IT IS WORTH IT!!!

  3. Avatar
    Mike Stephens March 27, 2009

    I was privileged to get to paint next to Doug and Ron and hear Rachel’s amazing laugh!!! I do not think I have ever heard something that unique. The best way I would desribe it is I bet the high pitched sound she makes when she laughs is just a few wavelenghts shorter than a some high pitched whistles I have heard!!! I was not with this part of the group. But it is not hard financially to sponsor!!! But to get down to Nicaragua was not real easy for me. It helped me not argue with my boss at Wal-mart, because as I was stocking those aisles at 2:00 a.m. I thought I will be in Nicaragua soon enough and my goal will have PREVAILED!!! But the sacrifice goes with each individual sponsor…for example if I am praying for my sponsor child daily that is not just the $32 a month. Looking at the question again I think to even be able to be asked that question is a blessing!!! If I could have time to think about I could have said no Juan it is not a sacrifice for me, IT IS A JOY and eternal benefit for me!!! Because by taking care of your children I am getting to know the LORD more!!! And it is not just me!!! All of Compassion staff, Sponsors, and many others are helping to make it a blessing to others. I am one piece in a huge puzzle. It was such a blessing to be able to have been on this trip!!! I am so glad it was made a blog!!!

  4. Avatar
    Helena Dworeck December 19, 2008

    I am Helena from Finland. This year I have begun to support 7 children:1 via finnish missionary organization FIDA, 2 via Finlands World Vision and then I found Compassion, the left 4 children I have via Compassion.
    I am recovering of deep depression, I have became retired because of it and I am only 45 old. The retirement salary or how to say isn´t too much. When I had 4 children, I decided to stop getting more. Well, I took 2 more anyway. Then I sat down and began to do some maths – it showed me, that I had to live with 51 € a week after all payments. I have tried to live so this December and failed badly, not only because of Christmas presents. I have two cats, they have be fed and also their sand has to be bought. And so on. So I took one more child. Well, then I found that I had forgotten, that my mother will give me each month 150€, because she says, that I pay too much rent to her. It made things easier.
    Now I have been thinking how dependent those children and their families are of me. I thought of the presents for childrens birthdays and the possibility that their families sometimes might need family gifts… how to pay all this? (I know that it isn´t a MUST to spponsor children at that way, but I want to do so). Wee, I found the solution. Even if I am retired, I have a permission to earn a little money. I have to search out, how much it is. Then I would like to find a job, two days a week, maybe six hour each day. It isn´t much, but I am not in the best condition yet. But the good thing is, that my childreen put me to think of working, which means going further in recovering!
    When I saw that 51€ a week, I felt like I was sacrificing, but the truth is that I am getting more!

  5. Avatar
    Monique July 8, 2008

    It is easy for us and we American’s know it. God bless this family and these workers in the field

  6. Avatar
    Paul Sargeant July 8, 2008

    I visited Thailand and Burma last year with my son on a mission trip to refugee camps. The people of Burma, just like people in many of the places that Compassion International sponsors children, and does their wonderful work, has suffered greatly over the last 60 years under a brutal military regime. I saw many people in the camps who had only the clothes on their backs, and a Bible, as their wordly possessions – and they seemed content. Not always happy, but content – at peace with what little they did have. Our culture in the US is consumption-obsessed. We are told that success consists in possessions and status, the size of our houses, where we go on vacation, how many cars we have. But there is a trap in such thinking, and the evil ones are trapped by their own snare. More things create the need for – more things. Things (earthly possessions), tether us to earth, not to our true home, heaven. Herein lies a great mystery, the more we give, of ourselves, our time, our money our resources, the more we receive in the heavenly realm, the more treasure we build up there, the more content we are internally, the more peace we have. Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also; so if your heart wants more things, your heart will always be seeking things to appease it – and there is no end. Only Christ takes away that desire, and only God can give the peace of contentment. For me, I love BMW’s; the BMW series 5 Touring is the one I say I want. Whenever I see it on the road I glare at it, admiring the design, the lines, the great technology, the speed. But I also know that if I were to buy it, it would possess me, not vice versa. Imagine all the children in abject poverty that I could help if I stick with my perfectly fine 10-year old VW (plus the gas mileage is better!). So, every day, I thank God for whatever He provides, little or plenty, and I try to be content in all things, all circumstances – not that it is always easy. All taken together, there is more peace in self-denial (such as it is…I have a car already, so why would I need a bigger, better, more expensive car anyway?), than there can ever be in self gratification. Denying myself the car, a coffee, a new jacket, a new gadget – whatever it might be, is such a small sacrifice in comparison to the great suffering of so many souls, and my litte denial can provide the possibility of great relief for somebody for whom the $5.00 that I would spend in an instant without thinking on a cup of coffee, is wealth unknown – and means that they can feed their family, heat their house, provide medical care for a sick child. If there is any ‘good’ in poverty then, it might be that it serves to keep us humbly reliant upon God for our needs. It also disciplines the heart. I think a little more poverty in our own lives, even if we had to induce it ourselves artificially, would do a lot for our hearts, and maybe free up ourselves more to serve him, and those in true need.

  7. Avatar
    Ron Taylor July 8, 2008

    I recall Brenda sharing her dream of becoming a Chief. She said that one of her recipes had won first place in a cooking contest (Doug, do you have some additional details?) and she was obviously very proud of her accomplishment. My request is that we pray for Brenda regarding this aspiration.

  8. Avatar
    Compassion dave July 8, 2008

    God bless you Sara–I do not know how the Lord is going to bless you, but I am CERTAIN that He will.

  9. Avatar
    Sara July 7, 2008

    As a college student I sponsor two children and don’t have much money to spare. But after reading this post and the responses I am reminded again how much I really have. What I consider a sacrifice is so insignificant compared to Juan and Brenda’s situation.

  10. Avatar
    Doug West July 1, 2008

    Amen Ron! I couldn’t agree more with you. There is no way to fight poverty without getting personal and knowing those who you are serving intimately!

  11. Avatar
    Doug West July 1, 2008

    One of the things we learned about this community is that Brenda used to have a job at a factory sewing clothes. However, the factories all shut down to move to places with even cheaper labor. There was no work for her now, leaving Juan’s intermittant work as an electrician to support the entire family.
    It makes one wonder about who is paying the cost for low prices. Just some more food for thought.

  12. Avatar
    Ron Taylor July 1, 2008

    Thanks for letting me know about the blog topic.
    In all honesty, I do not remember how I responded to John’s question. I do remember that as Rachel was responding, I was frantically trying to come up with a response that made sense to me, that fit my perception of the world. I wanted desperately to respond in a way justified my existence, my reality, and in doing so shade the part of my heart that had just been abruptly exposed by the bright light of John’s question. I failed … Rightly so, because there is nothing I could have responded with that could have assuaged the shame and guilt I felt at that moment. The only response I can give now is what a miserable selfish creature I am! I know nothing of sacrifice! John and Brenda, please forgive me for the arrogance of my belief that I have the solutions to the struggles you face.
    As the week progressed and even now as I write this it has been difficult to shake the feelings of guilt and shame …. I am guilty and should be ashamed.
    What a great God we serve that even in the midst of my guilt; God has forgiven me and removed that shame. I am sooooooo grateful for his forgiveness. I am grateful that God saw fit to bring about the circumstances that allowed me to travel to Nicaragua and the visit to John and Brenda’s home. I am grateful for John and Brenda and their willingness to be used by God to teach me the lesson I needed to be taught. I am grateful that God revealed the darkness of my heart to me that day….. Wow! What a privilege to be cared for by such a God! A God who is willing and able to complete the work he began in me….
    I am convinced that the only way we can truly understand the struggles that families like John and Brenda face is to, in some way shape or form, experience their life. Christ did. In order to become a Perfect Sacrifice He became man and experienced, without sin, what we experience.
    I know that most sponsors are unable to visit their sponsored child … for those of us who have; it has been nothing short of life changing. I really encourage everyone to correspond with your sponsored child … it means so much to them and their parents!!
    In His Name,

  13. Avatar
    Kathy Bergman July 1, 2008

    Wow Doug! This article touched me as much as seeing you hold your beautiful crippled child in Tanzania. Thank you for this amazing post – I just sent it around the world 🙂 I hope you are on my next trip….(I need to go to Ecuador!!!!)

  14. Avatar
    Doug West July 1, 2008

    I am glad to see God using this to draw many into a deeper contemplation of how we serve. To give a little more context, Juan asked the question in a very unassuming and currious manner – he was not trying to make anyone feel convicted or guilty – I think he was just wondering how much we put into this. In all honesty, I was dumbfounded; speechless; trying to figure out what to say to answer him hontestly. We can begin to feel good about what we do – even take pride in it, and for me it was as though Jesus was, out of great love for me, reminding me that given all I have, what I sometimes offer is not much more than crumbs from my table.
    To my great relief, the person who spoke up first to answer the question was Rachel. Out of all of us in the group, it was Rachel who could most honestly say that sponsoring a child was a sacrifice.
    Rachel is a teenager who purposefully went out to get a job so she could sponsor. She was the one who was giving away the greatest percentage of her earnings, all while trying to save up for her first semester away at college this fall. So, thankfully, she answered and told Juan that for her is was more of a sacrifice.
    Ron, a civil engineer, then also answered before the conversation turned but in all honesty the weight of the question was sinking deeper into me and I was more consumed with my own convictions than really hearing all he was saying.
    I’ll try to get Rachel and Ron on here to comment.
    I have heard from others who have heard this that children have been sponosred because of this – so praise God for taking what little we have to offer and multiplying it for His glory!

  15. Avatar
    Linda July 1, 2008

    I’m so thankful for what the Lord has blessed me with, but so ashamed of sometimes thinking I need more!! I pray that I would be obedient to the call of sacrifice.

  16. Avatar
    Compassion dave July 1, 2008

    Yea Vicki, that was kinda where I was going. It’s not that the question is hard to answer, it is that our answers are often embarassing to us.

    Or to put it another way, if we answered ‘yes’ to the question(that tending after our own children is easy) and then feel shame as a result, quite possibly it might be a reflection of our willingness (or unwillingness) to give to those who have not.

    So anyway, having said all that, my answer to Juan would have been simply, “Yes, it is easy for me to take care of my own children.”

    Honestly, I would not have elaborated on the answer until Juan formulated another question based on my response, or if his reaction to my answer warranted more information.

  17. Avatar
    Abbie H. June 30, 2008

    Wow! What a question! I’ve pondered that question for going on 20 minutes now. What would my response have been? How long would I wait until I start pleading with God to help me give him an answer quickly?

    I am most definately touched by the words..”I know nothing of sacrifice”. How true is that to most of us. There isn’t much sacrifice in giving only a evenings worth of food once a month. My mind then turns to the love and compassion we have for the kids we sponsor, but loving them is easy. So still I ponder and try to justify myself, but I’m left unable to answer that question.

  18. Avatar
    Steve K. June 30, 2008

    How about this as a response … in our heads at least … , “I know a camel will not fit through the eye of a needle, but I’m trying to do better with distributing the resources I’ve been blessed with.”

  19. Avatar
    Vicki Small June 30, 2008

    Dave, you may have put your finger on a possible response, but I’m not sure. What would you think, as a reply to Juan (or any other Compassion-assisted person), “I can’t tell you I am having to sacrifice, because God has blessed me with more than enough material resources so that I can bless you and your family”?

    Could be sticky; what does anyone else think?

  20. Avatar
    Compassion dave June 30, 2008

    Your story just confirms what we already know to be true–that we are blessed so we may be a blessing to others. When we as Christians forget that simple doctrine, we are no longer doers of the Word, but hearers only.

  21. Avatar
    Shelly Quigg June 30, 2008

    When I decided to sponser my first child, I didn’t know where the money was going to come from, but I knew I could get it from somewhere in my budget.
    I decided to sponser a Ugandan child a year later during the Uganda blog trip. The blog posts were a real wake up call. I was spending $40 a month to lose weight at Weight Watchers because I had too much food when children were starving all over the world!!

    A few months later I decided to sponser a child in India in honor of a dear Christian friend of mine who was diagnosed with breast cancer. She loves me like a daughter and as my Mom left when I was 5, I have always appreciated her encouragement. I wanted to give back some of what she gave to me growing up by sponsering a child in a country that is close to her heart for family reasons. Anyway, I have no idea where the additional $32 will come from but I am doing it on faith that God will provide for me, my daughter, and my three precious Compassion girls.
    As a single mother I do live paycheck to paycheck, but I know I have never sacrificed like most of the world does. I am very blessed and I am thankful that I have the opportunity to sponser these children.

  22. Avatar
    Beth Ingersoll June 30, 2008

    What a question. Kinda leaves you speechless…

  23. Avatar
    Vicki Small June 30, 2008

    Ouch. Doug, will you please share how you answered him? I think I would be struck dumb, and yet, he would be waiting for an answer.

  24. Avatar
    Stephanie June 30, 2008

    What a heart-rending story–and question. Wow.

  25. Avatar
    Andrzej Gandecki June 30, 2008

    Thank you Doug, and thank you Juan, a very sobering question…

  26. Avatar
    Rebecca June 30, 2008

    My goodness, what a simple but convicting question. For us, it is not a sacrifice, but it sure seemed like one when we were making the decision to sponsor. Convicting.

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