Monday, May 19, 2008

Why don't you reach out to poor Americans first?

Seth Barnes, of Adventures in Missions, wrote this on his blog:

There is an implied criticism for short-term missionaries when would-be supporters sometimes ask this question:"Why do you want to go overseas? There is plenty of poverty right here in the U.S."

Give such critics their due. They may be motivated by compassion or by a sense of stewardship. Who hasn't seen the homeless on our cities' streets and felt as though something needed to be done? Going overseas can seem like a costly extravagance when the need is great right here in our backyard.

That said, anyone who has seen the great swarms of hungry children picking through the mountains of trash outside Manila or Maputo can't help but be struck by the thought, "This is a whole different level of poverty. These people are just barely surviving."

When You're Down in the Dumps from Brady on Vimeo.

At least in America there is a safety net. There is food. Any large city has multiple homeless shelters [Though our metro area only has one, small shelter for families with children]. Emergency rooms will take you in if you are desperately sick. The poverty line for a family of four is defined as $21,201. Contrast that with the 1.2 billion people in the world living on less than a dollar a day or the 2.5 billion classified as living in extreme poverty. That is a standard of living that is more than twenty times poorer than those classified as poor in America.

At its worst, someone asking the question, "Why don't you reach out to poor Americans first?" is parochial or nationalistic. They value a poor human being in America more than a poor human living elsewhere. Because you're American, you belong to some sort of really big club of special people.

God classifies the poor not by nationality, but by their ability to care for themselves - widows and orphans being first in line for help.

Perhaps the best response to someone who is just looking for an excuse to not support you is to assume the best and challenge them: "I absolutely agree, we should be doing something about poor Americans first. Let's start here in our hometown. Let's find a family and make a difference in their lives - waddya say?"

For more of Seth's writings, visit his blog at:

No comments: