The Poverty of ME

Last week, I was in Mexico. On a sponsor tour. And I saw the deepest, darkest poverty of my life.

But I didn’t have to travel to ME, the abbreviation we use when referring to Mexico, to see it. I only had to look at me.

I was in Mexico for the wrong reason. I didn’t go for the children, to become a stronger, more passionate voice for them. To serve them better. To serve you better. I went because I like to travel. I went for me.

There certainly are solid business reasons for me to have gone on the trip, but I didn’t get out of my own way long enough to realize them. I hate that.

How do I redeem the opportunity God gave me and that I squandered?

I dunno. Analyze? Internalize? Theorize?.

Take a look at the poverty wheel. The hub represents absolute poverty – living on less than $2 a day. The rim represents the opposite of poverty – enough. And the spokes represent the different needs of those in poverty.

But what is poverty?

Compassion exists to release children from physical, economic, socio-emotional and spiritual poverty in Jesus’ name.

Poverty is spiritual. Poverty is economic. Poverty is social and physical. It’s not limited to the developing world. And this is nothing new to you. Right?

You know that the emotional disconnection we in the developed world struggle with is a form of poverty, right?

But why is it, with this enlightened consciousness, many of us still struggle with these chains? Why is it that with “enough” opportunity to become responsible, fulfilled Christian adults, most of us don’t act like Jesus and aren’t fulfilled?

Yeah. I know. We’re fallen. But for me, that isn’t acceptable! I despise that answer. It feels like an excuse. I want a better answer. I want to overcome that answer.

Hmm. Where’s God in that last statement?

HEY! Watch out! Fallen soul coming through fast.

I went on a house visit last Tuesday. The child’s family had nice wood furniture. It wasn’t just nice for their circumstances, you would’ve wanted it. The family also had electricity. A television. A DVD player. A refrigerator. A stove.

They aren’t poor like the poor I saw in Kenya. Dirt floors. Tin roofs. A 5’ x 5’ house that sleeps five. Raw sewage outside the door. And I thought, “Do they really need our help?” Just like many sponsors think when they see a child photo for the first time, that child doesn’t “look poor.”

The families I saw in Mexico were indeed poor in the things of this world. But in that moment, I was poor in the things of the Lord. I was full-on fallen. Self-absorbed and judging. Ugh!

But this post isn’t about me inviting you into my confession, and it’s not about me laying a guilt trip on you. Those may be outcomes 🙂 … but they’re not why I’m writing this.

This post isn’t about saying how “evil” we in the developed world are or anything other than:

Last week, I was in Mexico. On a sponsor tour. And I saw the deepest, darkest poverty of my life. It wasn’t the first time though, and it probably won’t be the last.

It’s about the only message that I could pull out of the poison, Satan laced his flaming arrows in, before shooting them in my heart.

That was my trip to Mexico.

I’m not sure how this post squares with “doing my best to make you feel like you’re in Mexico with me,” because it doesn’t tell you anything about sponsor fun day, when the sponsors on the trip met their children for the first time.

And it doesn’t tell you about our shopping and boat ride experiences, or how easy the customs declaration form was to fill out on the return flight home. But maybe you can get all that from the photos I uploaded to Flickr the other night; the whole trip is there now.

I should have some brief and very simple video for you to watch some time next week too.

¡Dios te bendiga! May God bless you.

16 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Bob December 14, 2009

    If “the opposite of poverty is enough” — just what is “enough”

    Is it a motorcycle… or was that motorcycle simply a photo op?

  2. Chris Giovagnoni December 1, 2009

    A.K. and Barbara,

    One of the things I learned on my trip, and that I seem to have to keep reminding myself of, is that poverty is relative.

    The poverty in Mexico is different than the poverty in Kenya, than the poverty in Haiti, than the poverty in India, etc.

    It all stinks. It’s all hard to swallow. It all tells the same lies to the children, “You don’t matter. You’re worthless.”

    But it doesn’t all look the same.

    I have a preconceived notion of what abject poverty in the developing world should look like, and it doesn’t involve a DVD player, television or motorcycle.

    My preconception doesn’t mean the child isn’t in need. It just means that the child doesn’t seem to be in the type of need that I feel as rewarded in fighting, when compared to other children’s needs.

    To me, this is the same thing I face when I look at all the other needs in the world I’m not helping with – the homeless in America, the persecuted church in China, etc.

    I can’t help with everything so I have to make judgment calls based on something, and sometimes that something happens to be appearances.

    None of the children Compassion helps is financially “alright.” None of them are living high on the hog and exploiting the system. There is genuine need, and that need is assessed and judged by our church partners in each community.

    Teams are created for the child screening process. A team is typically made up of a child ministry worker, one staff member from Compassion and local church members who know the people in the community, at least that’s how it is done in Tanzania. I’m assuming the team composition is similar in most of our countries.

    The teams are assigned different geographic locations around the church. Each team goes from house to house in search of children who are in need.

    Each child enrolled in our sponsorship program, regardless of country, is visited at home by someone from the church. That person interviews the family, observes the living conditions, compares it to other families in the area and then makes a recommendation for registration or not.

    Only the neediest families in a community are assisted.

  3. Barbara M. December 1, 2009

    Chris, I also wonder about how the children are chosen as A.K. mentioned. In one of the photos of my children he is sitting on a rather expensive looking motorcycle, I mean expensive. I questioned that photo and wondered how great his need was for Compassion. I do believe it belonged to his family. Are some of the children we sponsor actually financially alright?

  4. A.K. November 30, 2009

    Hi Chris! I’m glad I found this, and I liked your honesty in this post! Thank you! I feel that way sometimes, too…

    I do have a question related to what you are talking about. I sponsor a child in Mexico and visited her. Now, the visit day was absolutely wonderful and I really really loved it, but I couldn’t help but notice how nicely dressed and accessorized the child and her mother were. Now, I don’t want to be judgemental of them, but they seem to be very well-off, and not just based on their clothing but also on their resources. I do want to continue sponsoring this child and I really love her, but I am curious – How does Compassion do their selection process of the children? Do they really evaluate the families situations? What do you think about this kind of thing? i don’t know, I just want to be reassured that this child really needs Compassion…

  5. Susan November 12, 2009

    Chris,I believe all you have said.May God open our hearts,eyes and ears.

  6. compassion dave August 30, 2008

    The word ‘transparency’ has been popping up a lot lately.


  7. Juli Jarvis August 30, 2008

    Thanks so much for your transparency. This is why we need the poor as much as they need us — to get rid of our greed, selfishness and disconnect. We learn more and more from them upon every encounter.

  8. Compassion dave August 28, 2008

    Phew, for a while I thought it was just me. Welcome to club Chris (*I’m not just the president, I’m a member too).

  9. Vicki Small August 28, 2008

    Chris, Gin’s comment reminded me that, at the end of my first sponsor tour, we were all asked how we had changed, as a result of our time. I couldn’t come up with a thing. Honestly.

    Over the next several weeks, even a few months, I began to realize some changes that were directly tied to the tour. Give God and yourself time to find those changes in you; I’m betting some will surface.

  10. Gin August 28, 2008

    Chris — we don’t always know how God works in us — perhaps you are to touch someone post visit, or perhaps you will realize how God did indeed work through you during the trip… Hang in there, God has been with you and He will continue to be with you! Thank you for opening your heart to us and allowing us into your thoughts.

  11. Amber Van Schooneveld August 28, 2008

    Chris, one thing I always appreciate is your honesty. Thank you for being honest with us and the challenge it is to check our own hearts!

  12. Lisa Miles August 28, 2008

    I’m not sure what else to say other than, welcome to the land of the imperfect. I certainly live there. I’m a housewife whose house isn’t perfect, a mother whose child isn’t perfect. The only thing I can put my finger on in my life that IS perfect is my driving record — and I’m sure that’s only a matter of time. 🙂

    I just strive everyday to find some way to improve and be more what God wants me to be — and try to take comfort in the small blessings that fall down around me.

    Chris, you’re great! We were blessed by your photos and your posts — that’s something to be proud of. 🙂 I’m sure with each subsequent sponsor tour, you’ll get closer to what God and Compassion wants from you.

  13. Vicki Small August 28, 2008

    Chris, you sound a bit the way I felt, when I returned from my last sponsor tour. That’s good. No, it doesn’t *feel* good, but these trips, these ventures into poverty we can see, taste, feel and smell, are supposed to change us, open our eyes to our own poverty of heart and spirit. It isn’t a fun journey, but God is in it.

  14. Stevi August 28, 2008

    Thank you so much for sharing. Having been on 11 international mission trips to developing countries, I know I have come away from at least 2 or 3 feeling like I had wasted the opportunity and that I had come back unchanged. You’d think after all those trips I would be a super-Christian, always compassionate, always humble and self-sacrificing. Yeah right. If I don’t let God change me, all I come back with is pictures and some nice stories. The question I need to be asking is “what next?” Not just what trip to go on next, or how to do better ministry in Honduras, or how to raise support more effectively. But “what next?” in my daily life, my life here in the U.S. where our brand of darkness is hard to see because we’re so used to it.

  15. Heather August 28, 2008

    Chris: If we didnt have any doubt why would we even need our Saviour anymore?We’d be superChristians,able to overcome all and praise be to us! No I think such experiences are good because it reminds us of how much we still need Jesus and his Grace. If it makes you feel any better even Mother Theresa doubted-doubted her saintly work and Gods very existence in such dire circumstances in Calcutta. Oh…emotional shutdown is sometimes just the brain trying to save its owner from added stress,trauma or extreme dehibilating grief.Nurses and CPS workers have this happen to them frequently.Maybe ur brain thought it was just too much to handle. I hope this makes you feel a bit better!

  16. Andrzej Gandecki August 28, 2008

    Thank you, Chris, for sharing from the depth of your heart.

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