Richer or Poorer?

17 03 2008

I overheard a conversation between two individuals sitting at different tables at a restaurant recently. Two couples were eating breakfast and one elderly gentleman asked an elderly lady at the next table where she was from. She replied that she was from a very small town near the Canadian border. “Minnesota side?” he asked. “Nope. Right here in North Dakota,” she replied with an obvious mid-western accent. They chatted a bit more as they ate and then I heard him say, with more than a little pride in his voice, “I grew up poorer than you, I’ll bet.” “I doubt that!” she snapped. “We didn’t even have indoor plumbing. I had to trek to the outhouse in the middle of winter” she stated as if that would surely trump any card he may decide to play next. “Yeah” he replied, “but you lived in the country. I had to trek to the outhouse too and I lived in town!” He spoke with confidence, sure that outhouse treking, coupled with the extra humility of neighborhood witnesses, would definitely make him the absolute winner in the “poor me” contest. She must’ve agreed, because she had no reply other than a nod of defeat. They continued with their meal and their conversation moved to other topics, such as “do you know my carpet cleaner?” “He’s from your home town.” “Yup. He cleans my carpets too.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the conversation as I watched them eat their “everything” skillet breakfast platter served with the bottomless cups of coffee. Here they were, sitting in a heated, carpeted, well-lit restaurant, eating much more than their clogging arteries needed, arguing over who’d grown up poorer. I was just a little struck by the irony.

While I have no doubt there are plenty of poor within the U.S., I’m not sure that the usage of an outhouse, in town or the country, is what qualifies one to claim “poor” status. The U.S. Census Bureau currently defines poverty as annual income less than $10,787 for one individual under than 65 years old to $40,085 for a family of 8 or more. It does vary depending on which part of the country one lives in as well. Living in a moderate climate costs less than living in one with very hot summers and very cold winters. Living in rural areas costs less than living in urban areas.

I watched a program last night which chronicled the journey of a 13 year old boy from Uganda who’d come to America for lifesaving surgery. This boy was born with a congenital defect that fused the bones in his skull prematurely. This fusing caused his skull to grow in a cone shape and it was squeezing his brain and also affecting his sight. He was very disfigured and as a result, he was very ostracized by his entire village. He could not attend school and learned at an early age to hide whenever people were near. He was very small for his age and behind his peers socially as well as academically. His parents were unable to come to the States with him so he traveled with a social worker to Dallas, TX and stayed there for 7 months while 3 surgeries were done. It was amazing to watch this little boy’s life transform over that 7 months. Afterward, he returned to Uganda, looking very different physically, but acting differently too. For the first time, he was happy and smiling and not afraid of other people. The children in his village who used to fight and bully him, were now pressing him for information on America. Surely it must be heaven on earth as it’s this place that changed him so much. “My favorite thing was the doors that open by themselves,” He said. He described the mechanics and then noted that they were really great marvels because they knew just when you’d gone through, and they’d close by themselves too. It was not only his physical appearance that had given him a new outlook on life, but the things he’d seen and experienced in America had changed him on the inside too.

I think it made him “poorer’ in some respects. While his appearance and even his very life were changed and saved from certain death, he’d been exposed to things that would forever impact his outlook on life in Uganda. He confided to his mother that he was not coping well in Uganda since he’d returned. He couldn’t handle the primitive way of living any longer and he longed to live in the U.S. He wanted only to return to Uganda to visit his family and be sure they had enough to eat. He wanted a job as a mechanic. He wanted to fix things. He wouldn’t do it for free however. He’d get money for what he did and he wouldn’t be back to his village for anything other than visits. This experience repaired a physical defect that would’ve otherwise killed him. It left him with spiritual and emotional defects that could kill him too. His hope now lies in leaving his village instead of investing in it; abandoning his people and his culture for the “comforts” of America. I’m afraid he will be much poorer if he does.



2 responses

17 03 2008

As I was coming to the end of your post, Shaun’s slogan that says Compassion saves us from our wealth began to run through my mind. Our wealth has corrupted and innocent child.


25 03 2008

Intriguing post. I struggle with this issue so much at times. I sense this yearning in me for a simpler life, free from materialism, free from greed, yet I want my “comforts” and find myself unwilling to do without so much. I pray that we would be truly free in Him to live for the eternal. And I pray for the Ugandan boy, that he would find true richness in Christ.

Ditto to your thought.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: