I have a chapter in my soon to be published book Blessed Are They That Hunger A Christian Responds to the Hunger Games called “We Hunger for Sustenance”. It is about poverty in America. It is full of statistics about the shrinking middle class, the growing poor,and the rise of hunger. One of the studies that I researched for the statistics doesn’t call it hunger. The study calls it food insecurity. We are the richest country in the world and we have people who are hungry. In 2010 according to the study 14.5 % of Americans were hungry. This is more than at anytime in the history of America including the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
I was outraged when I read these statistics. I am outraged now.
I have seen real poverty in my travels throughout the world. When I was in college, I volunteered to do service in Tijuana Mexico. We worked in orphanages. We bathed kids and treated them for lice. We had a church service in the Tijuana dump because there was a community of people that lived there. I went to Turkey and volunteered in a government run orphanage to care for disabled children in their sparse facility. I helped run a medical clinic in Costa Rica for the indigenous people that lived deep in the remote rainforest.
I never expected to see the same level of poverty that I had seen in other countries, in my own backyard. A few weeks ago, I volunteered to do a service project with my church to distribute items donated for children attending Title 1 schools in our area. As I distributed items to the children, poverty in America had a face. The statistics that I wrote about and read about became real. They were no longer just a number on a page. They were precious boys and girls and their families who were the growing poor, and increasingly hungry.
One of these schools was less than 3 miles from my home.
As I spoke to the children, I explained our donation as being a Christmas present. I asked one of the girls if she was excited for Christmas. She said that she was. I asked her what she was asking for, for Christmas. She looked at me with a blank stare as though she didn’t know what I was talking about. I realized that she didn’t know what I was talking about. You see, she couldn’t ask for presents for Christmas. I foolishly projected my upper middle class existence onto this child of poverty.
She didn’t understand me, so she did not judge me for my insensitive comment. I felt ashamed, when I realized my blunder. I asked her what she liked best about Christmas. She answered me “Family and Love.” I was cut to the core by this comment. As a Christian, I pronounce ,”Jesus is the reason for the season,” but as I looked into the face of the young girl, I realized that as a child of privilege, I would never have given that answer.
I learned from this child. I learned about the face of poverty. I learned about dignity. I learned about what was really important as we celebrate the birth of Christ. I will always remember that behind each statistic is a real face,a real human being and real suffering. I had a paradigm shift that changed me in that moment and spurs me to do more to ease the pain in the faces of poverty. I am humbler and hopefully, kinder because of what this child taught me. I will have a different kind of Christmas because of her. I will remember that the best part of Christmas is family and love. I will remember to cherish them in my life. I will always be thankful for the gift of wisdom that was given to me by this child. Most of all, I will remember the little child in a manger over 2000 years ago who teaches me His love every day.
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.