True Poverty

I’ve arrived home from my trip to Mozambique. It was stunning and simple, beautiful and layered in profound peace. It will take some time to put words to the time and experience. Yet bit by bit I will share the goodness of God in Mozambique. Where to start? This is pressing on me:

I came across my first poverty this trip. And it had nothing to do with available possessions or food and everything to do with pain and sorrow.

Here in a small church we found sadness pressed down running over. It was all we could do to stay there. Even our small group found ourselves pressed under it.

The houses were the same as everywhere else I’ve been. The cookhouse was large and spacious. The dirt floors were no different than any other we had been in. The storehouse of grains and such seemed well stocked.

The first indication that things were different was that the floor in the house was not as well swept as other places we’d been so far.

The second thing was the sorrow of the children. I don’t think there was a minute that passed without at least one child sobbing over something.

My heart was already heavy as we gathered for worship that evening. The songs were the same, the dancing by the young teen girls was the same, and yet such a difference.

There were visible medical difficulties. A number of the people, young and old alike, had crossed eyes. One young teen was mentally challenged.

And to my shock the ‘choir’ girls mocked and laughed at an old woman passing by. I had never before encountered such disrespect. To the girl who was mentally challenged they laughed and made fun. This is when I really knew that something was very wrong in this place.

While singing my own heart had been despairing. Every persons eyes carried so much pain. And into the weight I too almost became bowed down to hopelessness. Yet into that space God reminded me that he was big enough for the problems here. “Of course!” I was reminded.

I was to bring the message that evening, but opted rather to simply pray for the children. To speak, to declare, goodness and light over their lives, to agree with God’s hope and plans for their futures. And so one by one I prayed and declared the goodness of God over each little life.

It was the least and the most that I could do.

At first I thought that the parents just didn’t know how to love their children. Children would cry and parents would laugh or ignore. But in the course of our twenty-four hours there I realized that it wasn’t that they didn’t know how to parent, but that they were all caught in crippling cycles of deep pain.

It is no secret that those in pain pass on pain to others. That when loss and sadness increase we either work our way through these things or we become hardened and flat in our own responses. Hardened in our own responses we have nothing to give to the pain of others. We cannot meet them in their pain for our own is just too great.

In that space we begin to mock others, to make fun of those less than us, to hold off hope, to refuse comfort. We cannot, after all, give what we have not yet received.

And so I began praying against the cycles of pain that are there. Began standing in the gap, like one putting a stick into the wheel of a bicycle that just must by stopped.

Our one evening there, over an open fire and under a stunning starry sky I did share a message on my heart. A favorite one of mine, that we need not bring our much to God, but rather we bring our little, and God makes it into much. Of how we do one day at a time and of the importance of leading in generosity toward each other. Of confessing our fear and trusting God to pour through us in ministry to each other.

It seemed appropriate in this place that was bowed under such weight of sorrow and sadness. God’s way out of heartache and despair is the same for each of us. Truth transcends culture.

This word was well received and in the gentle spirit in which it was given I trust is even now making its way through layers of hurt and pain.

As we left the next day, we gathered as usual in the main home to sing and pray. I closed off the time in prayer and made sure to speak directly to the cycles of pain and to declare their end and in their place the goodness of God.

My prayer was of course much longer than this, for in the praying I sought to validate where they were at, the state of things as they were, and to bring hope and a sense that healing is possible as they go forward.

As I finished off and said my Amen the women wiped tears from their eyes.

This community will continue to be in my prayers. And the churches nearby are gearing towards more intentional care and mentoring and healing alongside them. This place of true poverty, that had nothing to do with possessions or food or clothes has everything to do with cycles of pain and of sadness that overwhelmed.

It is as I have suspected. Poverty is not often about food or clothes or housing (although I understand it sometimes is), but the most crippling poverty of all is a lack of knowledge of the goodness of God. True poverty is an absence of hope.

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