The Problem of Poverty
By Spencer Spellman
June 29, 2007
Most of my life I spend wishing that I could create a time machine which could whisk me off to the good ole days also known as my childhood. Life was so simple, fun and happy-go-lucky. There are visions of me running through the pastures holding my girlfriend’s hand (although sometimes she had cuties), climbing up the monkey bars and creating mischief. Ah, the memories. I always felt that if I was living in this big wonderland called America, then people like me across the world must have been experiencing the same joys. Now that I’m a little older and barely removed from college, I know much better than that.
Life up to this point has been no wonderland for me. It seems that my entire life has been a string of just getting by. Yet I can’t help but realize that compared to most of the world, I’ve lived in a so called wonderland. It was not until 20 years into my life that I began to realize that life as it is in America is a rarity. After my junior year in college, I had the opportunity to spend a summer in South Africa. While there I got to spend time in a section of Johannesburg called Hillbrow, which had been crowned by some as one of the most dangerous place in the world. I remember being told that if we valued our life we shouldn’t be outside past sunset. The stakes were much higher being I was a tall, white, goofy looking American. We also spent a couple days in townships where whole families would be bunched into these sheet metal shacks with no running water or electricity. I left both of those places much different than when I had arrived. A journal from a day in Hillbrow read as follows: Lord, it’s hard for me to swallow and cope with the reality to me that a kid who hung over me all afternoon, sang “glory Hallelujah,” played catch with me, told me I was his best friend and took pictures with me, is dying of what South Africans call “the virus” and has a growth coming out of his stomach … I don’t understand it. I wish and long for an answer, but I have none to give.
For most Americans, we think of poverty as just being an issue in Africa where there is much disease and sometimes even famine. Yet poverty very much exists in our own country. I think I’m speaking for many when I say that I have often found myself turning my head the other way when I see someone homeless walking my way. I go about my business when I see the mother of five getting rejected shelter at the Rescue Mission. Every time I walk by someone who is homeless, I find myself saying under my breath that they wouldn’t be homeless if they tried helping themselves. Yet, if I was in the same position, would I rather have someone tell me to get a job or take me to get something to eat at KFC? And how do I know that that homeless person can’t get a job or a place to live because they’ve been in and out of rehab or face circumstance beyond my understanding?
How is it that though America can be the wealthiest country in the world, poverty would continue to increase around the world as it is? How is it that though Americans have such money, and poverty still exists in almost every city in America? You may respond to this last question by saying America isn’t really so bad off. On the contrary, a few years ago I spent some time in West Virginia where I saw families living in homes that were missing roofs and walls, and where families had to ration their food at the end of the month because their food stamps had run out. It was like I was in a developing country. Yet we presume that something such as this doesn’t exist and would never exist in America.
Despite the ongoing poverty that exists in the world, we continue to pass the cup to others like it’s a game of hot potato, hoping that we don’t have to be the ones to face the issue of poverty. We’ve put it on the government, expecting them to take care of tackling the issue of poverty. How can we expect the government to tackle poverty when we have a $500 billion and counting budget? Poverty is far from being on our agenda. Many of us have adopted this belief which says if it doesn’t directly affect me, than I don’t care.
All this is to say that we have to stop looking around for answers to the problem of poverty. If you want know what the problem is, go look in the mirror. The problem is us. We have become enveloped in our pursuit to have more and more. We have to have the newest, best things. We can’t be content with just having a car, shoes, jewelry, homes, etc. We have to have the car that parallel parks itself, a pair of shoes for every different outfit, the ring that blings even in the dark and the penthouse with the Jacuzzi. Yes, I admit that these are some rather extreme examples; however, this is the side we err to. I’m preaching to myself here too. I’m typing from a brand new laptop inside a gated apartment community with three pools. My point is that we have made ourselves the center of the universe. We have put our own comfort at the top of the agenda. We have missed the fact that we can be happy by not just giving to ourselves, but giving ourselves to other’s so that they can experience the happiness we experience.
I don’t exactly know how to help the poor and needy. I have some ideas, but there have only been very short periods in my life when I have tried to help those who need it. I hope that as I’m being provided for, I would provide for others, and I pray that God shows us all how to change the world by first changing our own hearts.