Do the Poor Dream? -Part 2

The World Bank announced this month that 968 million people lived on less than a dollar a day in 2004. That’s down from 1.25 billion in 1990 according to The Economist (2007 April 28th Issue).

Here’s the closing paragraph of the article:

When you live on a dollar a day it may be painful to confront your circumstances too squarely, or even to aspire to better things. The “great redeeming feature of poverty,” George Orwell wrote after his excursions in the social gutters of Paris and London, is “the fact that it annihilates the future.”

But the poor do have choices, it seems. Typical poor households could spend up to 30% more for food, if they would divert devoting their funds towards “alcohol, tobacco and festivals.” “Festivals” includes weddings, funerals, and religious outings and take up to 10% of a households budget.

The authors attribute this spending to either escapism:

“this spending might be motivated by escapism –the poor have a lot to escape.”

Or Social emulation:

“Even those in absolute poverty care about their relative standing.”

These two reasons could be cited for affluent westerners as well. I wonder if they failed to recognize [or at least to mention] the human desire to celebrate, socialize, dream and feel -if but for a moment -happiness. Are these not attributes/needs of all people including the poor? The poor are human. They hate. They feel shame. They feel trapped. They feel love. They feel hope. They create. They dream.

It’s because the poor dream, and hope, and hurt, that this question really matters:

“Lord, When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?” Matthew 25.37

See you in the Mystic…


7 responses to “Do the Poor Dream? -Part 2”

  1. James Petticrew Avatar
    James Petticrew

    Interesting stuff, I worked a lot in Paisley both in the Police and with the church with the urban poor, often homeless. The percentage who were addicts, either to drugs or drink was overwhelming. They would often spend all of what little money came their way on their addictions and get involved in petty crime to fund more.
    At one level this was a real source of frustration to me as their actions were quite literally killing them and depriving their dependents, especially children, of their right to the basic things of life, warmth, food and clothing. Yet I could often understand why they lived as they did. They were living embodiments of Paul’s adage in Ephesians that to be without God is to be without hope. Drugs and drink numbed the pain of their hopelessness.
    It was only when we as the church could offer a dream, the dream of a life of significance and love that such hopelessness could be overcome.

  2. Andy Avatar

    Great thoughts, and thanks for saying it. They are the majority, yet they get the minority of our attention and energy. So where does that leave me with Jesus, as you say…

    Next month I’m going to an orphanage in Cambodia where about half the kids have AIDs, and then we hope to begin a relationship that will lead to regular groups of Japanese volunteers going with us (my family) to serve there. I hope we’ll concretely serve and bless the kids in some small ways and nourish their dreams. We’re also going because we’re so needy. We’re desperate (I’ll speak for myself, my family, and on behalf of the Japanese as well). I want to go sit at the feet of these kids and bring others with me. Hopefully, the result will be more than just “short term trips” but people who know Jesus and live different lives than they would have — and maybe a few who begin to dream powerful, new dreams and give their lives to help the cause of the poor and outcast. And some day in the Kingdom we’ll thank these kids for empowering us…

    (BTW, we’re mostly bringing Japanese who don’t know Jesus and some who do. We want them to discover that the desperate desire they have to love and serve others is pointing them to Jesus. We want to show them the way by walking it with them, and then inviting them on the journey with us.)


    PS: A book tip – I’m reading “sub-merge” by John Hayes, a book about living among the poor that’s worth a read. It comes from real life and it’s filled with stories from a community who are learning to live this out together.

  3. Shaman Avatar

    poverty battles against hope—but this does not mean it decimates all dreams.

    the poor can and do dream. in fact, i’ve been to many oppressed and impoverished places where a “blessed hope” (the promise of a better life beyond this one) is the most tangible of dreams—and btw, one that rich westerners find more and more difficult to connect with.

    moreover, i think it could be argued that unearned wealth and privilege may ultimately be a far more potent dream suppressant than poverty. as just one example, it is not uncommon for those who live in the comfort and privilege of a western suburbia to say that suburbia is the place where dreams go to die.

  4. jpo Avatar

    wow. truly profound. Andy, thanks for the words of encouragement about your upcoming journey into Cambodia. I pray that what you seek to see happen will come about by the Spirit.

    We are trying to do similar things in my context as well. Heading to Mali, West Africa in two weeks to further a soybean development project. Two who do not know Jesus intimately will be coming with us. Also making attempts at this journey with the poor with middle and high school students in the states. Unsure of how to pursue this since many are western suburbanites who, as Shaman comments, are in the “place where dreams go to die.” However, I am hopeful that their desire to live beyond themselves, though still in nascent form, will continue to grow.

    “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God gave the growth.”

  5. Mike L Avatar

    Have you read Ruby Payne’s “A Framework For Understanding Poverty?”

    It’s a great read and would be helpful on this topic.

  6. Kurt Avatar

    I can relate to the article cited. We minister to inner city families at our church. And the growing trend we see is that poverty in our area might not fit the definition of poverty in other areas of the world. The poor families in our area may live in run down homes and apartments, have need of many things, but they still have a playstation, cell phones, cable tv, and 20 inch rims on the car.

  7. Nic Nelson Avatar

    Kurt, I hear you. Same in our ‘hood (South Central LA). Yes, they have dreams, some big, some sadly small, some really odd. My wife once asked a neighbor girl “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” (context: high school kids from some American inner city flying overseas in a cultural exchange somethingorother)

    The girl thought carefully for a bit, and answered “Hollywood.”

    That’s a 30-minute bus ride from here.

    Sad and stunted dream of a girl in poverty? Or was she sophisticated enough to know that there is a way to go to Hollywood that makes it significant and thrilling and fulfilling, a worthy dream, but the city bus isn’t the vehicle to take you to THAT Hollywood? Does she really need my or anyone’s help to get there? But what happens to a dream deferred?

    I’ll let Langston Hughes answer that one.

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