The many faces of poverty
There’s always been a special place in spirituality for the poor — Jesus himself “became poor” (2 Cor 8:9). Poverty can be economic or spiritual. Here some people share how they face and alleviate it
Believing in God’s providence
We came from Mexico to work in the fields in Madera, in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Jobs were always unsteady, but they gave us enough opportunities to provide for our four children and give them the possibilities for a better life. It was always hard work in the fields, but we were happy with it.
When we got older, my husband didn’t find jobs that easily anymore. At that time, we had to move out of our house. A person we knew offered us their house, but then, two months before we had to leave our house, she told us, “Oh, I need it, you can’t have it.”
It was devastating, and we didn’t find anything in such short notice, so we had to move temporarily into a trailer home in a bad neighborhood.
At the same time, it was our youngest son’s prom. He decided to ask a girl that was not so popular to join him — he wanted her to enjoy that evening the most.
When some weeks later we visited a house that we wanted to rent, the landlord turned out to be that girls’ father! He gave us the house, even if other candidates were more financially secured.
Now we have moved once more, and our house is not expensive, but we are looking for a smaller, cheaper home, since all of our five children are grown up. My husband is tired of the work in the fields and wants to return to Mexico where life is much cheaper. He is happy to be together there with me, and most of our family still live in Mexico.
However, I don’t want to leave our children and grandchildren behind, especially since our youngest granddaughter was born six months ago with a congenital heart disease. She already underwent two surgeries and needs one more.
All our children went to school and made their way, and our youngest son just entered the seminary. When he came for vacation, I didn’t have enough money for his ticket back, because we had heavy rainfalls for several weeks, and that meant less work in the fields. But God’s providence arrived — he found a ticket for $100 less than expected. I told him, “Pray more,” and I am sure that God always helps us.
When our situation becomes difficult, I pray to God, and I share my worries with the people with whom I try to put the Gospel into practice, in the spirituality of unity. Now I entrust to him the decision about where we will spend our next years … and I’m sure in this case as well, God will provide.
— M. E., California
Long ago, I was raising two daughters after my husband died. I was working on commission and I received a draw against that commission. I was having difficulty paying my monthly bills and I did not know what to do, or where to turn.
With my faith and a prayer in my heart, I said, “I will go to the grocery store, a large chain, and write a check.”
I went to the store and went to see the bookkeeper and asked if I could write a check over my grocery bill. Would she hold it for 10 days? She said, “Yes.” I wrote the check for $200 over the grocery bill. She kept the check for 10 days as she said she would. This went on for a long, long time — writing checks always for $200 over my grocery bill.
When I moved out of the area, I went to say goodbye and to thank her for her assistance.
Fifteen years later, I was shopping at Macy’s and she walked up to me to say hello, after having recognized me. I gave her a hug and thanked her again for being my lifeline and helping me in those trying times.
She never questioned me, she never made me feel badly, she was always courteous, kind and caring. I know Jesus was helping me through her.
— P. A., Georgia
As a pastor of a middle-sized parish in a town that thrives on summer tourism I see firsthand the reality of poverty every year. Many people who work as help in hotels, restaurants and bars labor so hard through the summer months to save as much as they can for their families. And it all works out for them until winter comes. A big snowstorm can blow their savings in half for their heating bills. Inevitably we see them knocking at our door, often with their gaze lowered in embarrassment and shame to ask for assistance.
It’s a story that repeats itself every year. We have created a structure in our parish that is totally dedicated to help these brothers and sisters, through a network with other churches and local agencies. What matters most is that their dignity remains intact and they feel treated as human beings worthy of being loved, regardless of their background.
Poverty takes many shapes, many of which are invisible, in persons who lack something necessary for their well-being. In our community we discover the poverty of the widow, for example, who is lacking companionship; or the elderly person who does not have any contact with the outside world, making the “stories” on TV the only interaction with other human voices for days.
We noticed that sometimes they call us frequently with the most unusual request only to talk to someone who will respond to them with respect and love.
Other forms of invisible poverty are reflected in our younger ones who feel so stressed out by the expectations of life, of those who lead, teach and guide them. But nobody cares to teach them how to live well. Many of them find themselves being tossed from one fad to another, being forced to take on lifestyles that they may find repulsive only to be part of the group. Often we hear their cry even though they are almost unable to vocalize their needs.
These forms of poverty are all around us. The challenge we receive from these invisible poor is to “go out” toward them and make their poverty our own. Once the seed of love is planted, then new life can sprout again.
— S. E., Maryland
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