There was once I was catching up with a couple of friends in Jakarta when we ended up talking about the state of poverty in Southeast Asia and the possible issues we noticed.
Impassioned by the conversation, I quickly launched into my usual rhetoric on the topic. We discussed about the impact of industrialisation, what poverty looked like in the region and how communities were affected by it. But my enthusiasm quickly ended when one of my friends remarked, “Are we really doing good with the kind of help we are extending, or are we disrupting their way of life?”
That then got me thinking: Is poverty necessarily a bad thing? Or am I misunderstanding the meaning of poverty?
I left the country feeling very dissatisfied. My wife and I had booked a flight to Myanmar following this trip, simply to serve a ministry we felt called to. Having only the intent to learn, we did not plan anything; instead, we brought with us some support and donations the ministry had requested.
We had increasingly felt God leading us to Yangon to be with this very special group of children. Our previous encounter with them had been nothing short of divine. Yet this trip wasn’t about the help we were extending, it was something far more. We weren’t sure, but we kept our hearts and minds open.
In our short stint of four days with the children, we sang, we dance, we played really hard, and read Bible stories together. Albeit short, I treasured every single moment I had with them. There was something very attractive about these kids. What I soon realised was that none of these children behaved like they were in poverty – they played the way children played.
Certainly, there were practical problems such as a genuine lack of resources, yet none of this became material for the story of their lives. Instead, the stories I heard were filled with gratitude, love and kindness. They served one another with dignity and humility. I was deeply inspired. And I’ve learnt that poverty is merely a story we tell ourselves.
There’s many ways to live in a story of poverty, no matter how much material wealth you have. Here are just some examples:
a. I will never have enough money.
b. I deserve the success I’ve achieved.
c. Life’s just difficult like that.
d. There are always things to worry about in life.
e. I don’t have enough for needs besides my own.
I’m reminded of the Grinch who hated Christmas because he never felt loved in his life. The Grinch believed in his story of misery so much that he became miserable and tried to make others believe in the same misery.
With the same idea, have we become the lies we believe? How can it be? That life is so hopeless that no one can ever make it better? Have I become the Grinch, where I try to convince others of my helpless plight?
On the Sunday we were there, my wife was sharing during Church service with the kids when I decided to excuse myself to the toilet, upon which an unfortunate encounter ensued. As a naturally clumsy person, I sliced my finger while trying to lock the toilet door. The pain was like a nasty paper cut, and it was bleeding badly.
Embarrassed by the fuss I was causing, I sheepishly asked for a bandaid. But in that moment, I suddenly felt God speaking to me: “What do you do when the body of Christ is hurting and bleeding profusely? Do you numb yourself with the pill of ignorance and let it infect itself or bleed out?
“Or do you pay attention to it and aid in its healing process?”
It was then I realised: Our story is written with the blood of Jesus. I’m part of a larger community whose needs are equally important to mine. My destiny is intrinsically linked to the destiny of the body and bride of Christ – the Church. Christ bled for the Church, and if the Church bleeds, we have to respond.
For this is God’s command: To believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. (1 John 3:23)
Sometimes it is less important what is going on in our individual stories if it takes the pen out of the hands of the Maker and becomes all about ourselves. What is far more important is that we become the truth that we so desire.
For me, this means obeying the One who has called me and to bring love everywhere I go. Whether it is as simple as writing a card, serving someone, or even having fun together.
For Jesus, it was as simple as arriving a child and serving His beloved people until it led him on the cross (John 3:16). It is a story drenched with overwhelming love that surpasses all understanding, reasoning and the human expression itself.
This was a moment of truth for me, and what I need to do seems pretty clear now: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3: 5-6)