I’ve had the thought hundreds of times: If the average American/European/Australian could visit the homes of the world’s poor, they would be aghast. As I’ve traveled with Jason and Nicole around Mexico’s state of Puebla checking up on projects we’ve been doing with their help, we’ve been inside many humble residences.
The first thing I always notice is that the children have no idea that they are poor. Those who live in dirt-floor homes are just as happy as those who live in homes with carpeted floors (if not happier).
Neither are the adults who live in shacks sitting around depressed. It occurred to me that they don’t have to worry about carpet stains, window smudges, furniture scratches, and cluttered kitchen counters. They don’t have to vacuum, dust or scrub. When your floor is dirt, you don’t have to be concerned about someone tracking in dirt.
Most of the homes we’ve visited this week are just one or two rooms. If the floors aren’t dirt they’re rough concrete. The walls are cinder block or wood planks. There are no ceilings, so you can always see the rafters, made of tree branches, and the underside of the roof, either corrugated tin sheets or tar-covered cardboard.
“Kitchens” are just corners where there might be a crude table to chop greens. Kitchen utensils are a few old bowls, a knife and maybe some spoons. There is always a place in the main room for an open fire for cooking and keeping warm. Smoke wafts through window or gable openings. No one eats three meals a day. Many eat one, and there is little variety in the menu.
There’s never indoor plumbing. Outhouses are holes in the ground surrounded by old tarps that are hung on posts.
Bedrooms are nothing more than a bed in a corner of a multipurpose room, and the beds are just a raised, crude wooden platform with a worn, dirty blanket that serves as a mattress. I’ve never seen pillows.
There are no bookshelves. There are no books.
If there is any electricity, it feeds a solitary low-watt lightbulb that hangs unshaded from a center rafter.
There are no toys for the children. If they own a ball, it is usually a tightly-wrapped bundle of plastic bags that have been scavenged from roadside trash. With those trash balls, kids play soccer in bare feet.
I’ve also found myself thinking of how the poor people I’ve been meeting are so rich in at least one way. Here in central Mexico, we’ve visited only the homes of believers, and I often find myself admiring the quality of their relationships. Their lives are stripped down to the essentials, and there is little to distract them from each other. No one’s heads are buried in laptops or riveted to smart phones. There are no appointments to keep, no TVs or movies to watch. So they talk to each other, listen and laugh. Among those who live at The Village, a Christian community started by Jason and Nicole that I’ll be telling you about tomorrow, there is the fragrance of heaven.
I don’t mean, in any way, to romanticize the lives of the poor. Life is very hard for them. They have no opportunity or hope of bettering their lives. For those who don’t know Jesus, it is worse. As I’ve learned from the testimonies of the saints, the lives of unbelievers here are often characterized by superstition, idolatry, witchcraft, alcoholism, unbridled promiscuity, incest, and family abuse of hellish proportions. The stories can make your eyes tear up or your blood boil. At least when redemption occurs in this darkness, it shines big and bright. Jason and Nicole have witnessed it hundreds of times.
On behalf of Him who came to preach the good news to the poor,