A colleague shared a link to a blog entry by Paul Jeffrey a few days ago. It’s been sticking with me, both the beautiful photographs–“pictures that aren’t the kind of images you usually associate with Haiti”–and the reflections on mission, poverty, and how we continue too often to see things simplistically. The tone is quite critical, but I recommend it as a read. Here’s the link: Global Lens » Haiti: Hatuey’s legacy.
“Many see poverty solely as a deficit. They define poverty as a lack of food, clean water, medical care, faith. To solve poverty, all you have to do is fill the deficit. Right? Nope. . . . Poverty isn’t an accident; people aren’t poor because of fate or bad fortune. Poverty is manufactured, and it’s structural. . . . If we want to make a difference in the lives of poor people, it means we have to address those structural issues.”
This takes me back to a conversation with a colleague from the church in Colombia a few years ago, who first called my attention to the use of the term “empobrecimiento.” Rather than talk about “the poor” and “poverty”–which suggest a static, neutral, passive reality–Germán talks about “the impoverished” and “impoverishment”–terms that highlight the active structures that put human beings in situations of nearly inescapable misery.
As that blog entry emphasizes, we who seek a change, an end to impoverishment, need to understand history and context and the structures that lead to the crushing realities and injustices faced by so many people. We want to help, and that is most often a good and laudable impulse. But we need to seek a deep understanding of the problems we want to address, and also recognize that we, too, are in many ways wrapped up as victims of the same systems.
We tend to be forgetful of history and eager to cast ourselves as the ones with power and choice, the ability to change. But we, the rich and privileged of the church and the world, are not God. We do not have all the answers. We are not the bearers of salvation. We, too, need something different.
We must open our eyes to see that the chains bind not only the impoverished masses but us as well. We must hear the voices of frustration and the words of wisdom spoken by the “others” who are our neighbors, hear the witness of Scripture and Christian tradition, and be called to repentance and to true solidarity as companions on the road of liberation for all creation.