Where Joy, Beauty and Leadership Meet Poverty
by John Dennis, Stove Team 4
If you ask someone who has never seen poverty before what what they perceive it to be, the typical reply would be a rather bleak viewpoint. You’d likely hear things like, “poverty is sad” or “poverty is when people have nothing.”
To be quite honest, that’s how I probably perceived poverty to be before I experienced it in real life. Sad. Hopeless. Bleak. Having Nothing. So, it’d be no surprise that someone who hasn’t seen it would assume these things. The truth is, those words most associate with poverty - sad, hopeless, bleak (or whatever associated words) - couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Now I’m not talking about starvation here - I’m talking about poverty… and it is not sad, and it is not bleak. Are there sad aspects? Absolutely. But it’s important to realize that reality (and the perception of reality) rests in the eye of the beholder.
Change your lens, and you’ll start to see poverty in a whole new light. It is joy, it is beauty, and it is leadership.
Poverty is joy because the children living in poverty have tremendous fun with each other — and may I dare say, perhaps more fun than most “screen addicted” children in first-world countries have. It is joy because it is found so easily if you just look around. It is not until you stare at a child playing whose abundant joy carries him through his day living in poverty that you can even begin to truly understand and agree with this.
Poverty is beauty because if you look around, you’ll see a sense of ownership and pride for the few thing that someone living in poverty has. For example, the vibrant, bright colored paint on walls… the hand-made nick-nacks enshrined on walls and on tables… the most creative use of what we might see as “junk” turned into something truly amazing, innovative - and beautiful.
Poverty is a great example of leadership because if you take notice, you’ll see those living in it leading by example in more ways than one. Whether it’s women hand-washing clothes and scrubbing vigorously at the local pila, carrying 60, 70, or 80+ pounds of wood, produce or supplies on their head every day to support their families or their businesses, or the innovative ways in which they make extra money on the side — you will find countless examples of how those living in poverty are tremendously inspiring and influential, especially for us visiting on a Mission trip. And if you look up the word lead in the dictionary, you will find it reads, “to influence or induce.” Hence why Poverty can be a great example of leadership for us who take so much for granted.
When you experience poverty and see the beauty, joy and leadership that exists in communities that live in poverty, the work you do to make their lives better is SO much more rewarding. I have discovered this week that by giving my experience here some grace and opening up for the opportunity to be touched by these experiences, my own life improves.
I can say with confidence, that even under some pretty challenging circumstances, those living in poverty still find a great sense of joy and beauty in the world. They are not worth less than us and we should love them as we do anyone; family and friends alike. I personally feel very grateful for the opportunity this community has given me - along with the hospitality and love.
“Love God with all your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” — Mark 12:30,31