Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

The First Time I Touched Poverty

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This is a guest post by Chris Morris. Chris is a CPA by day, but a creative at heart. He loves telling stories to inspire and encourage others, even when life seems busted. He also loves a great cup of coffee, preferably French press. He writes at Chris Morris Writes. You can follow him on Twitter or find him on Facebook.

I thought John was exaggerating when he called it Garbage City.

I never imagined in my saddest dreams what I saw that day in Guadalajara.

I didn’t know much Spanish, but I knew we just entered the landfill. The towering heaps of trash seemed to stretch to the sky. And the stench was overpowering.

But I was still confused why we were here.

“John, did you say we are going to minister to kids? Where are they?”

“Just wait a few minutes, Chris, and you will understand.”

We turned left and drove another five minutes. Turned right and drove a few hundred feet, then another left. That’s when my heart broke.

On the corner of the street was what I can only describe as a lean-to made of garbage. A refrigerator door turned on its side formed the base of one wall, with various boxes and trash heaped on top. A large cardboard box formed the roof. The other wall was just junk. There was no door.

A women, probably sixty years old, was shuffling along the road with a deep limp. When she saw our cars, she smiled a toothless grin and sped up her hobbling. She yelled something in Spanish down the road, initially it seemed to nobody.

Within thirty seconds we had to stop our vehicles. We were surrounded by children of all ages. Giggles and laughter and smiles on every single kid, even though their clothes wouldn’t even qualify as rags in our country.

I started to cry, right there in the car. John placed a strong hand on my shoulder. “Welcome to Garbage City, Chris. This is what it means to be poor. Time to get out and show Jesus now. Come on!”

John got out first. “HOOOOOLLLLLAAA!” he shouted as he opened his arms wide.

“Holllllaaa!!!” The crowd of children shouted back. Three kids were already climbing on John: one on his left arm, another on his legs, and a third climbing on his back.

I held back in the car for a moment. Paralyzed by fear.

What if I have nothing to offer these kids?

What if they don’t like me?

What do I say, since we can’t talk?

What if they make me sick?

The last question brought me up short. What if they make me sick? Whew, my selfishness hit me like a punch to the gut and took my breath away. Wow, I traveled all the way to Guadalajara to share the message of Jesus, and here I was stifled by fear of illness.

Lord, forgive me, I prayed as I opened the car door.

I was enveloped by kids large and small as soon as I got out. I am particularly tall at 6’7”, and I became a massive curiosity, like a bearded lady at the circus. We laughed. We played. We connected, without needing a common spoken language.

John gathered the crowd of children and we gave out groceries for every family. Enough for a few days at least. Then we sang a few simple worship songs with the kids in Spanish. John shared a simple Gospel message and was met with a surprise. The shuffling old lady raised her hand and accepted Jesus that day. She told John her heart found healing because we played with the children, rather than shying away from their filth. We showed her Jesus, she said.

My heart was forever changed by visiting Garbage City. I still struggle with selfishness today, but it’s different now. I know what poverty looks like, and I know the power of investing in the lives of people, even if they are filthy.

Everyone is created in the image of God and is worth loving.

When was the last time you touched poverty? How did it change you?

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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29 Replies

  1. Jeremy, thanks for letting me share my experience here

  2. Absolutely. I love hearing stories like yours.

  3. Chris, this is amazing. I’m thrilled you shared this story!

  4. Chris, love your transparency. How could anyone remain untouched by this experience?

  5. I agree. I like how Chris helps us see that we have to touch it to really know it.

  6. It is one thing to read or hear about poverty. Even those old Sally Struthers commercials didn’t prepare me for this. The sights, the sounds, the smells—everything seems to point toward despair. And yet, I have rarely seen joy like on these little ones. I was overwhelmed by their joy as much as their poverty. I will never forget this day, and I refer back to it often whenever I feel wanting.

  7. Pictures and videos just are not the same, Jeremy…as you well know

  8. Jim, thank you for the kind words. My hope is to stir in others an understanding of the importance of getting deep into the real life of poverty to ‘get it.’

  9. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I will never forget this trip.

  10. I love your story. I feel deeply connected to poor people, maybe because I am so poor in spirit.

  11. DaveArnold16

    Great post, Chris. I had a similar experience in a slum in Bangkok. The “smell of poverty” is something I’ll never forget, and something Jesus calls His followers to care about. Thanks for this reminder.

  12. Kathleen, I still struggle to maintain a sense of connection, because of my job. I work with senior level executives in pharmaceutical and healthcare companies. Most are fat and happy, so I can easily become the same. I reflect on this moment often, whenever I feel the selfishness rise up

  13. I don’t see you ever become fat and happy.

  14. I finally understood what it meant to be a blessing to the least of these when I was attacked/hugged/jungle gymed by those children in Guadalajara.

  15. I actually think you are right. These two months on disability have changed me forever, not just improved my writing. I know have friends like you to remind me of the greater things in life. Just promise you will digitally slap me if you sense some movement away from a bigger life, okay?

  16. Thank you. I have a feeling Christa and Pamela might do the same, among others…the danger of friends committed to helping me grow

  17. She saw Jesus is your love for the children.

    In the late 80’s I went to the Philippians with Habitat for Humanity. I saw poverty. Tomorrow I will look for the photographs from my trip.

    Thank you for sharing your heart and this trip Chris.

  18. Pamela,

    It was amazing to see her drawn by our care for those kids. I’d love to see those pictures and hear your stories.

  19. Great post. I’ve been working to help people understand the poor in our own city too. There is so much need, and most times we are all oblivious to it, or choose not to see it. Thanks for the reminder.

  20. I like the idea of touching it as Chris tells it. it means proximity. it means participating.

  21. Exactly! We’re working to help organize opportunities for people to touch it and step out of their comfort zone. That’s what makes the difference.

  22. I believe we HAVE to get dirty for it to matter to us. We are so quick to just throw money at a problem. We need more than money to solve most problems—heart, time, love, energy, care, brokenness, passion, commitment, eyes to see, hands to touch, noses to smell. We need to jump in and experience what it means to be poor. How broken life can be for those not as blessed as us. I will be praying for you to have success in these endeavors Tammy. I’d love to hear some details from you on what you’re doing in this area. Maybe we can talk about it a bit Monday?

  23. Sadly, we usually choose not to see it. Or blame the poor for their own situations. Or judge their intentions without even seeing them as human.

  24. IslandJanet

    I was brought up in Salvation Army mens hostels (my daddy was the officer) Some of those men had notthing at all other than smelly clothes & a bottle of meths. chronic alcholics with no help other than the SA who cared for them. Some lived under bridges near the motorways or the river. All had nothing at all. One day a young man arrived at the hostel, he was 17 & too young to be allowed to stay. Dad brought him home to stay with us. This young man (I will call him Paul) Paul had nothing at all other than a change of clothes… his acloholic father had thrown him out on the streets. Paul lived with us for a good few months, learned that he had a Father in heaven who loved him. Paul moved away once he was back on his feet. he kept in touch with Dad & my younger Brother.
    Years later when Dad passed away Paul turned up at the funeral… I hardly recognised him, this smart young man with a pride in himself. I thanked him for coming & he said ” I would never stay away, he was my Dad too” Bless him for that & Dad would have been so proud of him as he was with all of us. Paul came from nothing, with nothing & feeli
    ng like nothing, to a young buissness man with a future & a life worth living. Yes I was touched by this.. some of my tears that day were happiness.

  25. Janet,
    This is an amazing story of how caring enough, risking enough, loving enough, and doing something can change lives, one person at a time. Thanks for sharing this

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