Why a Poverty Blog?

Bangladesh--Where this story began.

In January 1977, just over 32 years ago, my wife, Kendra, my daughter, Heather, who had just celebrated her first birthday, and I arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh to begin what we thought would be a two year assignment but stretched to seven.

Our shipment of supplies, dishes and things turned up about three months later just as we were moving into our field assignment in Kamalganj, a rural area in northeastern Bangladesh. As we carried boxes of paper diapers, kid’s toys, clothes and other things that we had shipped into a small house that had originally been built for leprosy patients we began to see our world and our place in quite differently.

I am the son of a Baptist pastor and grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia where he pastored a small church. Kendra, a missionary kid was born in Barbados when it was still a British colony and grew up there and in Grenada. Neither of our families were rich by American standards—probably on the basis of money alone, we would have been lower middle class. We grew up thinking of ourselves not as poor but certainly not as rich either.

As we moved in that day, all that we owned in the world fit on the floor of one of the four 100 square feet concrete rooms that comprised our new house—almost without stacking. As our possessions disappeared into the house, however, what seemed to us minimal in the US suddenly seemed excessive. With a start we realized at a gut level that we were rich. With that personal revelation, much around us began to change. Previously we were able to read biblical instruction concerning possessions without guilt, sometimes subtly seasoned with self-righteousness. With the new recognition that we were rich, the same passages became acutely uncomfortable. Beginning with that discomfort, a two year assignment also slowly transformed into a lifelong vocation, and for over thirty years we have led others in ministry to God among the poor.

We quickly came to realize that simply providing money and goods would not in itself change the culture of poverty. If the ship bringing our shipment to Bangladesh had sunk in the Indian Ocean, we would not then have been poor, only inconvenienced for a period. Neither life nor even wealth is actually measured by the accumulation of possessions alone.

In the years since, our family lived seven year in Kenya and I have traveled to dozens of impoverished countries. None of my travels have moved me to romanticize poverty—it is terrible, rooted in injustice and eats slowly away at all that a person is meant by God to be. But I have also been transformed by thousands of hours of conversations with the poor, especially those who are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and come to new understandings of God’s heart.

That is why I am writing this blog—not to give answers but to chronicle my journey especially during this leg of the trip with my colleagues at World Concern.

Meredith

5 thoughts on “Why a Poverty Blog?”

  1. I like how you described your realization about poverty, and I believe you are right simply providing money and goods will not in itself change the culture of poverty. I’m currently reading Peter Singer’s “The Life You Can Save,” and he speaks about extreme poverty and how it’s not only a condition of unsatisfied material needs but it’s accompanied by a degrading state of powerlessness. Many people have a pervading sense of shame and failure because they cannot provide for their children. I was wondering in your experience in helping and talking to the poor do you see this sense of shame in many people? If so what do you say? Or what can you do to help people overcome this feeling? Thank you for your time and I would like to say I admire you for all that you have done for the poor.

  2. Writing about social illss, in this case, poverty, can educate and at best, galvanize readers to effect changes. Caribbean-American author Lili Dauphin has used fiction, for this same purpose, in her series about Tilou, an inspiring eight year old Haitain girl, living in the direst of poverty in a small village in Haiti. The series starts with Crying Mountain Crazy Hurricane. The backdrop of infant mortality, starvation, inadequate housing and child slavery are real. Also real are the spiritual strengths of these people, their honor and pride, and their community.
    Crying Mountain Crazy Hurricane s the first in the series about Tilou.

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