Posted by: Louise | November 26, 2010

Traffic Lights and Poverty

I stop at a red light. Suddenly there is a child pounding on my car window. I jump with surprise, although I shouldn’t. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve stopped at these lights to find children begging at my window. How do I react? I manage to feel around five different emotions in the 30 seconds that it takes for the light to change. I feel COMPASSION for this young boy who has beautiful big dark brown eyes that look so sad. He is obviously hungry, dirty and is literally dressed in rags. Then ANGER. Where is his father, the one who God gave the responsibility to protect him and provide for him? What mother would allow her child to be subjected to this shame, injustice and miserable existence? I feel DOUBT. It’s not wise for me to give to this boy. He’s probably working for some evil man, who is abusing him, forcing him to do this. The man is going to be the one to take any money or food that I give this child. Then I look in my rearview mirror and see my three children strapped safely in their car seats, dressed in beautiful clothes sent from loving relatives in a distant land. They are clean, well feed and happily listening to Bible songs. I feel CONVICTION. Their little eyes are watching me to see how I’m going to react to this little child banging incessantly on my window. I’m CHALLENGED. I have no idea what true hunger is. I have no idea how it would feel as a mother to not know where the next meal for my children is going to come from or to watch my children fall asleep knowing they are still hungry. I have no idea of how it would feel to live on the streets with no protection from those how wish to abuse me or my children…. The light turns to green, the horns behind me blare loudly, I shift to first gear and drive away feeling upset and annoyed. My children don’t even comment – they are used to it now.

For a long, long time I have been struggling with poverty. Growing up where I did in a comfortable home, in a respectable neighourhood and in an affluent church I very rarely came face to face with poor people. But then I moved to Asia. I’ve written before about how the poor literally come to our gate and live close to our home (and here) . Many times I’ve struggled to know how to help them.

You see I rationalise – “The materially poor our not our primary reason for being here. We have been called to support Bible translation. Our desire to to give ALL people access to the life changing, community transforming Word of God in a language and mode that they can understand it. We feel passionately that without the gospel people perish. That people need God’s word in a language that they can understand so they can truely comprehend the amazing work of the cross. That church communities need to be fed by access to the Word of God in order to remain faithful and endure through generations. At this point in our lives God has not asked us to spend the majority of our time in ministry to the poor. He’s giving us a different calling, a different focus for our time, energy and money”. But does that mean we can ignore the poor around us? Is it enough for me to simply ease my conscious by giving some odd jobs to children that call at the gate and handouts of rice?

Other days I read books on poverty and conclude, “Giving handouts is not what these people need. My indiscrimiate gifts only reinfoces their belief that they can’t help themselves and therefore deepens the poverty trap that they are in. They need people who will go and help to transform their community. People who really know them, their situation, their language”. Really? Is that what Jesus demonstrated as he went from village to village peaching, healing, caring? Or is it my convenient excuse, because I don’t feel that I know the BEST way to help.

Or since we got Katie I justify – “I have three children under five and we are adjusting to a new baby in the house. My children demand my attention constantly (convenient exaggeration!). I can’t just drop everything everytime a child comes to the gate looking for a snack, or a job or a…… “. The three children inside my gate are watching me, having their worldview of poverty, and our reasonability to it, shaped by what I DO, not by what is SAY or READ to them from the BIble. Often they convict me by their willingness to stop the game they are playing outside and run in to fill up a glass of cold water for the stranger at the other side of our gate.

Or worse I selfishly protest -“I JUST SAT DOWN! I don’t want to get up again”. Where is my compassion, my conviction, when the children are napping, it’s hot and I am craving a few moments of peacefulness beside the fan?

I have no easy answers. No answers that don’t make me feel uncomfortable. I can’t shake the conviction that although it’s not “our minsitry” and although I’ve got three kids under five, that God’s heart aches for those who are hungry, neglected, the fatherless and the widows. I’ve tried to ignore the conviction, rationlise and justify it away, but these days I can’t seem to read the Bible or go to my ladies Bible study without God’s heart for the poor coming up. God has been teaching me, I feel literally forcing me to take a deeper look at this issue. I’m reluctant. I have a feeling it will mean I will have to change. Will you pray with me for compassion like Christs and a willingness to obey? I need God to transform my selfish and prideful heart.



  1. Great to hear such honesty Louise… and when I pray it will be for my own heart aswell. A

  2. I struggled with this when I was there, too. One solution for the child beggars was to keep bags of peanuts handy. That at least got some protein into their bodies, instead of pesos into the pockets of someone who is using them for forced begging. Some of the Filipinos suggested small bars of soap and shampoo to hand out.

    Of course, those measures don’t take care of all the issues, or deeper ones. The solution is limited. I look forward to more thoughts from you.

  3. i feel your struggle, Louise. and i love the way you communicated the stoplight experience – that’s so accurate. thanks for being honest and transparent in your desire to love them, yet in balance with your own needs, which are valid, too. i too am praying not only for compassion, but for wisdom; to be able not only to give temporal material help, but for ways to give the enduring hope of the gospel of Christ to the little ones at my gate…

  4. […] Overfed and unconcerned. (I’m continuing my thoughts started here.) […]

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