And once you're feeling safe and loved in the arms of God, maybe we could talk about poverty.
I'm not an expert by any means, but I've lived under the poverty line and in developing countries on and off for the past few years. Poverty is right in my backyard. The World Bank estimates that 30% of Kosovars live beneath their national poverty line, which is far below the American standard.
Most of us seem to have a knee-jerk reaction when it comes to poverty. We feel guilty, and we want to alleviate that by doing something immediately. We give $25 and forget about it. Today, I would invite you to lay that pattern aside. I believe it's more important that you think rightly about the poor than give money to them.
Money is great, and giving to relief organizations is important, but we can't really address the problem of poverty until we understand how it works. When I hear people talk about poverty, I almost always hear one of two stereotypes about the poor. The first stereotype is particularly endemic to American poverty, though I've heard it applied worldwide: if someone is poor, they must be lazy.
If you have ever thought this, I invite you to read Dale Hanson Bourke's recent article in Christianity Today, Why Am I Not Poor?. Bourke does an excellent job of revealing the numerous factors that lead to poverty—factors that often cause the poor to have to work twice as hard as the rest of us. I see the truth in her piece every day in Kosovo. The people here are incredibly hardworking, but the unemployment rate remains high and poverty rates along with it. Numerous institutional and social factors make this possible, including poor education, corruption, and instability. Under Serbian control, Albanian Kosovars were set up for significant economic limitations, the remnants of which are still visible today (much like the effects of racism in America). The economy is slowly growing, but there's still a long ways to go.
But we've all heard this one, haven't we? Someone goes to Kenya and talks about how beautiful and wonderful and loving the people are. Even though they live in the slums, they're so happy. We could all learn something from them. Ugh.
Even if the poor people you've met really are the most amazing people on the planet, please don't dehumanize them by making them so one dimensional. Poor people, like you, have bad days. They don't always want to smile or be nice to you. And though it's generally true that poverty makes people more religious, it's not because the poor are more holy than you. It's because they're more desperate than you. Praise God that he uses our desperation to draw us near, but also praise him for lifting up the oppressed and declaring that the first will be last.
The point of all of this is simple: poor people are people too. They're a lot like you. Most of them work really hard to provide for the people they care about. Most of them are just doing the best they can, with the resources they have. When we debunk the myths that the poor are lazier or holier than you, we can begin to see them as our neighbors, our friends. I think it's much easier to help someone once we know them. Once we've actually sat and listened to them, like we would with any of our friends.
The first is Kiva, a non-profit organization that facilitates loans for entrepreneurs in developing nations. Kiva allows people to sidestep one of the biggest obstacles to getting out of poverty: access to capital. While it's easy for most of us to get a loan, this is not true in many nations. The borrowers on Kiva invest in their businesses and homes, boosting their revenue and stability. I put $25 on my Kiva account four years ago, and it's been cycling its way through various borrowers ever since. There's something really cool about trusting someone across the globe to pay you back, and trusting that they'll use the money wisely in the meantime. It's empowering all around. And Kiva now offers loans in Kosovo! (Click the photo above to lend.)
Other than Kiva, and a few other organizations I really like (World Vision, Heifer International, etc.), my favorite way to combat poverty is to give my money, time, emotional/spiritual support, and other resources to the people around me. This method can be really awkward, because it requires that you actually get to know people, but it's also the most effective. Amanda Opelt recently wrote an amazing piece on how to be a friend and safety net to those around you who are struggling with poverty. I've reiterated a lot of what she said, but you should still read it.
Basically, it all comes down to recognizing that the world isn't fair, but that most of us have the extraordinary privilege of making it better. Let's begin by looking at one another with 3D glasses (no shallow stereotypes here) and respect.
Love to you all,