Four Posts on Poverty

Over the years I’ve blogged a number of times about poverty. Four of these posts remain among my favorites, and I thought I’d share them here in one post.

The Opposite of Poverty is Justice This post has little from me in it (one very short paragraph) , but the video included of a TED talk by Bryan Stevenson is powerful.

21st Century Third World GehennaThis was one of my earlier posts on poverty, one where I discussed the issue of people digging through dumps to make a living. Not long after I first published the post I learned about the work going on in Honduras. Someday soon I hope to make a trip down there, but this problem exists the world over.

Poverty at the GateI’ve never seen much activity around this post, either in traffic or comments, but it remains one of my favorites in terms of theological reflection on our response to poverty.

Poverty and Worldly PassionsInspired by an article by Nick Kristoff, this post addresses the moral issues that often underly poverty. This is not a popular topic at all with many people, but it’s very real.

If you want to see every post tagged “poverty,” just click here.

Ministry in the Favelas

It used to be that when Brazil was mentioned in the United States, the average person would immediately think of the Amazon rainforest. It was really rather annoying to me. Now, it seems, “Brazil” brings the favelas to mind for most people when it comes up in conversation. This is also sad, given that this type of underresourced community is not the standard mode of life for most Brazilians. The stereotype is worsened in articles with a title like “Missionaries Reach Drug Infested Slums of Brazil.”

There is no denying that the drug trade is a serious problem in Brazil, and it is one that Brazilian authorities and others in Brazil are taking serious steps to address. It is also not a new problem. Narcotraffic has been big in Brazil since the 1980s, and when I went to Brazil for the first time in 1997 I lived in a poor neighborhood where a drug lord was the unofficial but very real “parallel power” in the community. There was violence of every kind, and it continues in cities throughout Brazil to this day. Still, this cannot be used to define Brazil as a whole, because it is simply inaccurate.

Brazilians are not children, and the nation is no banana republic. There are very intelligent, creative, capable people from the grassroots to the highest places of temporal power working to solve problems and make Brazil more just, peaceful and prosperous. There is crime and corruption, but there are also people of good will and strong hearts committed to the work of order and progress (the words printed on the national flag of Brazil).

If anyone has thoughts of going to Brazil to do mission work, engage in social entrepreneurship or participate in community development projects, it is best to go with the humble attitude of a learner and a using an approach that involves collaboration rather than top-down administration.

The following video, referenced in the article I linked to above, highlights the work of a Baptist missionary couple in one poor community. Although I differ with some points theologically, I appreciate their apparently incarnational approach and genuine dedication (13 years on the field) to reaching out.

See also:

Finding Your Passion

“Human communities depend upon a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability.” – Sir Ken Robinson

School didn’t work for me after 4th grade until college. Once I was in college, it started making sense again. Frankly, I was bored out of my mind most of the time during those intervening classroom years. It wasn’t until I found a passion that motivated me and compelled me to act on my own initiative, taking ownership of my path and my future, that things got interesting.

In the TED Talk below, Sir Ken Robinson explains his view on education and our passions in a way that really hits home with me. The fact is that once you find your passion, that into which you can lose yourself for hours without noticing the passage of time, that life starts getting really interesting. The trick for most of us, though, is making that a way of life that pays the bills.

Have you found your passion? I have a pretty good idea of mine, but I’m still fine-tuning the details.

Making Our Way Back To Brazil…Or Not

For several years now I’ve recognized the mistake I made in going to Brazil so soon after graduating college. I needed to take some time and get to know my then-fiancée (now wife) and myself better. I needed a bit more experience in ministry and life in general. It was too soon. In the past few weeks I’ve had cause to wonder if I really learned anything from that experience.

My wife and I want very much to return to Brazil. It’s her native land and the place to which I’ve felt called to serve since 1997. In prayer I’ve repeatedly asked for God to hasten our return there. Despite the fact that I’m American, born and raised, I often feel very out of place here. It doesn’t seem right to be living this life.

At the same time, God has blessed us. I’ve gone from being a preacher to a project manager. Several years ago my notion of technology was limited to what I could do with a Windows PC. Now I work in digital media. I’ve gone from the hinterlands of New Mexico to 6th Avenue in New York. I’m convinced that this is the work of God.

What I want to believe is that God is preparing us for future service in Brazil, and that this time of discipline and training will lead to a fuller, more established life in that country.

What I fear is that I missed the mark, fell short of my calling and am being led down a different path. Sort of a “Plan B” in which God is blessing me, but not in the way I could have been had I been more faithful.

The risk is that I make “mission in Brazil” into an idol, bowing down to it rather than to the Creator who called me to service.

There are no answers that I can see, other than that I have to persevere in faith, doing what I can to align myself with God’s will. Praying and hoping for the best.

Can anyone out there relate?

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Of Urban Legends

When I was in my senior year of high school, I had my heart set on going to John Wood Community College in Quincy, Illinois. I’d visited, applied and been accepted (not that it was that difficult). For whatever reason, my mother wanted me to go to school at the slightly-more-distant but in-state Moberly Area Community College (MACC). Nothing doing. Then it happened. A friend told me something that made me opt to check out MACC.

He told me an urban legend.

It was the one about criminals literally lying in wait beneath your car, and when you walk up they slash your achilles tendon and then rob you. It sounded so chilling and plausible to 18-year-old farm-fresh me. It was enough to make me reconsider my John Wood plans. It was also ridiclous.

First, if they could do it in Quincy, what was stopping criminals from pulling the same stunt in Moberly?

Second, most modern cars are too close to the ground for anyone to crawl beneath without putting it on a lift or a jack.

Neither of those fine points occurred to me before I visited MACC, and when I visited I knew it was the college for me. It was practically love at first sight.

Since then I’ve heard countless urban legends, most of them (though not all) online. Email and now social media have made it simple for people to circulate silly rumors (watch your kidneys and cars that flash their lights for you to pull over!), and enough don’t do minimal critical thinking or fact-checking ( helps) to put an end to the bane of urban legends.

Sometimes, though, I encounter a story I don’t know how to evaluate. It seems plausible and there’s no simple way to fact-check. One is regarding taking possession of homes received through Minha Casa Minha Vida in Brazil.

Minha Casa Minha Vida is a program of the Brazilian federal government to provide homes with very low monthly payments (handled through the Caixa Economica Federal bank) to working people. It isn’t a government hand-out, as residents are expected to pay for their homes. It’s really just a very good deal, if you’re willing to live in a new neighborhood (not like it is in the United States, may lack a variety of good stores and other conveniences for a little while) and invest in improving a simple home into something nice (or not, just keep it simple and keep paying your mortgage).

One of my brother-in-laws qualified for a home recently in Uberlândia. It’s a wonderful thing. Then a couple of weeks ago someone gave him a warning. They said that as soon as he has the keys to the house, he should move belongings in even if he isn’t ready to move his family right away. Why? Apparently there are people waiting for unoccupied houses in the new neighborhoods to be turned over to their new owners. When this happens the invaders move in and claim the house as their own. In Brazil, the process for a private citizen to remove someone from illegally occupying real estate is far more prolonged than if it’s government property.

In other words, move in fast to keep the squatters out.

In Brazil, this sort of thing can happen. Laws are very favorable to squatters in many cases, and there are many people anxious to claim a bit of land or a house either for themselves or for future profit.

I’ve googled this topic but come up with nothing. Urban legend or reality? I don’t know. Either way, I guess my brother-in-law had best move fast.