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The Question I Hoped I’d Never Hear from Someone Living in Poverty | by Becky Svendsen

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One minute, I was alone … and the next, I was overrun. While I was answering emails on the last day of a trip to visit savings groups in India, teenage girls suddenly swarmed into my bedroom unannounced, covering giggles with their hands.

These girls—who lived at the orphanage next to my guesthouse—asked to see my clothes and touch my hair and page through my books. They called me “sister” and showed me how to wear the sari I bought that week, explaining that only married women wore saris. Whoops! They acted shy at first but were soon gently elbowing each other out of the way to have me photograph them by the window.

Eventually all the girls disappeared except one—Anaya.* She told me how her father abandoned her after her mother died. And how despite huge class barriers, she dreamed of being a nurse. As she scrolled through photos of HOPE International clients around the world on my laptop, I explained that I sometimes traveled to help others—mostly Americans—understand what poverty is like.

Her curiosity bubbled over. “So your job is to help the poor people? People like me?”

I nodded.

“But you are one of the money people, right?”

“…I guess you could say so.”

And that’s when she asked it:

“Sometimes I feel sad and ask God why I am one of the poor people. Do you know why?”

This same question has hung in the air, unanswered, for generations before her, but I’ve only ever heard it articulated by Westerners walking away from poverty like doctors walking out of a sick room. Talk about a heavy moment.

I didn’t know why, I told her. I added that I didn’t understand many things about God, but that I knew He was good and trustworthy and loved her and loved me the same amount. She smiled knowingly and agreed.

The dissonance was heartbreaking: Anaya and I were totally equal, but our lives couldn’t be more lop-sided. There’s no explaining why I wasn’t born into her life and she wasn’t born into mine.

Honestly, I don’t often let myself feel the confusing weight of poverty in my work with HOPE.  It’s exhausting, of course. And with more and more leading voices decrying knee-jerk, short-term responses to poverty—and rightfully so—more practitioners and donors are prioritizing an analytical approach.

But hearing Anaya’s question makes me think we might have lost something there.

Sure, if emotion is our only motivation, we’ll run out of steam halfway and be of no help. But God’s Word speaks of softening, not hardening, our hearts. What if we only need to learn to harness our feelings?

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Chip and Dan Heath portray our emotions as a mighty elephant and our powers of reason as its tiny but thoughtful human rider. When the elephant and rider are out of sync, disaster ensues. But when led well, the elephant becomes the powerhouse that overcomes inertia and barrels through challenges.

In economic development, emotions without reason can quickly take us off course—into things like dependency, cynicism, or megalomania. But without emotion, we might never find the momentum to get started at all.

I suspect there’s a reason, then, why empathy, compassion, and emotion are at the core of how Christ calls us to live: Love your neighbor as yourself. Anaya’s life is too precious to concentrate only on her most heartbreaking, immediate needs. But if we’re not willing to tap into our emotions as we go about the work of empowering men and women like her, we’ll never end up where we want to go.

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Becky Svendsen has served with HOPE International since 2008 and currently leads HOPE’s communications team. It’s her privilege to share about HOPE’s mission, operations, and incredible clients with churches, donors, foundations, and others. One of her greatest joys is getting out from behind her computer to interact with HOPE’s clients and field staff to see firsthand how God uses meaningful work to help families break free from poverty.

The Myth of Expertise | by Claire Stewart

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As my eyes skim headlines on relief efforts for the thousands of refugees spreading across Europe or development organizations fighting poverty in sub-Saharan Africa or news of violence in the Middle East, my heart breaks for the suffering that plagues our world.

And yet, I rarely speak up about issues of social justice. Too often I fall prey to what I call the “myth of expertise.” I look around and see people who know so much, and I think, “What could I possibly contribute?” So I wait for a big blue genie to arrive and magically prepare me to join the conversation.

Let me tell you a secret: This genie doesn’t exist. And you don’t have to be an expert to join the conversation and engage the issues you care about.

Here are two reasons why you should dispel the myth of expertise and join the conversation before you feel you’re equipped to contribute:

  1. Change is accomplished by those who show up, not only by those who know the most. Possessing expert knowledge of an issue, while important, is only part of the grand scheme of working toward change. The talents God has given you have equipped you to make a contribution. Joining the conversation is the first step in the process of learning where your skills and talents meet the world’s needs.
  2. You’ll learn more from within the conversation than you will as a spectator. You don’t need expertise to successfully participate. Listen. Ask good questions. The first step in engaging with issues you care about is to learn. Join book clubs, travel to different cultures, or attend events. From within the conversation you’ll be better able to see how your own talents can contribute to meaningful change.

Three years ago, I began hearing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from friends who had experienced firsthand the injustices of the decades-old war. I knew that I cared about the pain experienced daily by Palestinians and Israelis, but didn’t know how I could contribute.

But I did, however, show up. There was a panel on campus, and I asked to help in any way that I could—manning the snack table or making posters. Then I was asked to use my organization skills to coordinate a trip to Bethlehem. A few months later, I found myself on a plane to Tel Aviv, headed to a conference on an issue about which I still felt I knew nothing.

Even so, I discovered that I didn’t need to be an expert to join the conversation. By showing up and contributing in ways that I knew how, I learned far more than I ever thought possible.

Don’t fall for the myth of expertise, my friends. You don’t need to be an expert to contribute. If you feel drawn to an issue, show up with a desire to learn. I think you’ll find that there is a place for you and your talents within the conversation.

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Claire Stewart serves at HOPE International, where she works with the president and executive team. She is a member of Millennial Voices for Peace, a movement promoting reconciliation and a holistic understanding of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Claire has a degree in philosophy from Wheaton College (IL).

Surprised By a Prayer of Blessing |Isaac Barnes

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Inside a simply finished home overlooking Burundi’s capital city, Bujumbura, I listened. With my voice recorder between us, I listened to Uvita and Zenon recount their previous struggle to meet their family’s needs. Blessing, the youngest of their six children, played nearby, stopping every few minutes to beam a smile in our direction, clearly aware of his charm. Captivated by this family, an earnest prayer welled up inside me:

Father, would you continue to bless this family. Provide for them above and beyond their wildest dreams. As they flourish, may they be like a river, bringing refreshment to all they meet!

To be honest, this sudden, emotional prayer caught me off guard. Where did THAT come from? Having never faced scarcity, I couldn’t relate to Zenon’s feelings of helplessness as he worked so his family could get by—but the loneliness he described sounded familiar. I remembered a past season when my work and life felt meaningless. And with little hope for change, I had felt trapped and alone. I was getting by, but I wasn’t thriving. So as I reflected further, my prayer began to make sense.

 

Created for good work

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At our core, we all share a common yearning—the inherent desire to not just get by, but to fully exercise our God-given skills and talents as we were created to. And as Christians, we want this flourishing—this state of thriving—not just for ourselves and our families, but for all people.

In Ephesians 2:10, we’re reminded, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” Covered in His fingerprints, we most reflect our Creator when we heed His invitation to work alongside Him. But we’re constantly held back by brokenness—poverty, pride, idolatry, greed—that keeps us from fully participating in the good work God has for us. But we’re never alone as the Holy Spirit guides us, encouraging us to reflect our Creator and seek the peace and prosperity of our communities (Jeremiah 29:7).

Becoming a blessing to others

“We were known as poor people,” Zenon told me. But as I listened to their future plans, I saw a family no longer defining themselves by their loneliness or poverty. Through the support and opportunity in their savings group—organized by their church in partnership with HOPE International—both Uvita and Zenon are putting their gifts and talents to good work. Zenon used a loan from his savings group to expand his tailoring business with additional sewing machines, renting them out for more stable income. And Uvita used a loan and savings to invest in their farm, cultivating enough to feed their family and profit from the surplus! The house we sat in was built from their savings. Able to welcome guests and bring an offering to church, Zenon said, “Now I serve God well.”

 

Seeing Uvita and Zenon grow into the people God has called them to be is what I—and my co-workers at HOPE—get excited about. Because when families experience the dignity of putting their God-given skills and creativity to work, they not only provide for their needs—they thrive. Believing work is an integral part of God’s design for us, we invest in families in undeserved communities through discipleship, training, savings, and small loans that restore dignity and help families flourish.

As we work for the Kingdom, I hope we listen as the Holy Spirit prompts our prayers toward the flourishing of others, just as He instructed the priests to pray for the nation of Israel:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Numbers 6:24-26

Isaac Barnes joined HOPE‘s writing team in 2013. Since then, he’s enjoyed telling the incredible stories of HOPE-network clients and creatively communicating about Christ-centered microenterprise development.