What is Poverty?

Even though I work with artisans in third world countries where people by most standards are defined as poor, I have seen just as much poverty in the States as I have around the world. It's because  I've learned that poverty is not defined by the amount of money in your pocket. You can be poor whether you live on a dollar a day or $100 a day or even $1000 a day.

Poverty is a mindset that can enslave you and to tell you the truth I have personally fallen into its trap. I was fortunate to learn the joy of living in abundance at an early age. In college, I was down to my last dollar and knew I needed to do laundry that in that era would cost a dollar but I wanted to give an offering in church so I gave the whole amount anyway. Miraculously, the next day an encouragement card came in the mail from an distant acquaintance and inside was a crisp one dollar bill!  I found the reality of abundance when my tangible assets were depleted but there were other times when my account was full yet I lived in poverty because I was stuck in limiting thinking.

Poverty-thinking is when I worry about not having enough. That kind of fear leads me to either vigorously hoard what I already have or to live at a hectic pace trying to accumulate more. It leads me to believe that working harder will prevent the panic of lack.

Poverty-thinking fosters jealousy. It believes that if someone appears to have more than I, that somehow my chances of having enough are diminished.   

Sometimes it even resents the success of another and expects a portion of their profits. Nicole, from Haiti, is an artisan I really respect. She is a real entrepreneur and has started several successful small businesses including a bread bakery using solar ovens. But as soon as she starts making money her neighbors start lining up with their hands extended demanding their share!  If she doesn't, they can make life miserable for her.

Poverty-thinking believes resources are in such limited supply that if I don't grab my fair share before someone else does, I will lose out. That mindset makes me stop seeing others as a potential friend or partner but rather as an obstacle to be stepped over.

But poverty thinking may not always be wrapped in obvious negativity. Even an altruistic point of view can succumb. There have been times when I was offered gifts that I KNEW represented a huge sacrifice on the part of the giver; like the chicken lovingly sacrificed for my lunch in Kenya by a family who had little more than a mud hut and heart full of gratitude. Or the sugary cake baked over a charcoal oven by artisans who pooled their pennies because they were grateful for their training. Everything in me resisted accepting their gifts because I knew they had so little and I didn't want their resources to be depleted. I believed if they gave to me, their lives would be made even more challenging, maybe even unsafe.

On my last trip to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, I contracted Dengue Fever for a second time. It is caused by a particularly virulent mosquito whose bite causes high fevers, joint pain and potential death since there is no treatment for it. I know the day I got bit. I almost know the exact moment. It was late afternoon and it had been a long hot day. I had taken a bottle of insect repellent on the trip but ran out earlier in the week because you need to cover every part of your body night and day. I thought about asking one of the team members if I could borrow some of theirs but was afraid they might run out and then both of us would be susceptible so I opted not to. On the surface that might sound like a kind thing to do but in reality it was based on a mindset of poverty. I believed that there couldn't possibly be enough for all of us so I quietly "sacrificed". If I had asked I would have found out that there was plenty of repellent available for all of us. I just didn't know it was still packed away in their suitcases waiting for the need. Now the doctor has advised me never to go back to Haiti because contracting it a third time would likely be fatal. My belief in scarcity when there was really enough actually created  more limitations than I ever imagined.

What if we all were to give up living in poverty and stepped  into the glorious abundance of enough?  

What if we truly believed there was enough for everyone to have their needs met?  

What if we could sincerely rejoice in the successes of others and encourage them to flourish even further?  

What if we gave up the hungry grabbing for more and instead rested in knowing that today would be filled with enough?  

What if we could freely express a legitimate need and know that the satisfaction of that need would come on precisely the right day in exactly the right way so that all of could find joy?  

What if we knew that none of us needed to stay stuck in poverty  but could freely move into abundance?  

We could change the world!