The following is the text of a Mission Moment I gave at church on 23 September 2012.
The numbers have become numbing and meaningless. 1.29 billion people living in absolute poverty. Which is defined as “... the state of severe deprivation of basic human needs, which commonly includes food, water, sanitation, clothing, shelter, health care, Education and information.” Destitution. 15% of Americans live below the nationally defined poverty line. The poverty line in America is an income of $23,000 a year for a family of four. Which is an income of $1916/month.
Could you live on $1916 a month? What would you have to give up? Your car? Your house? Your cable TV sports package?
Poverty is a way of life. Poor people are not sitting at the kitchen table working out possible ways to get out of poverty. When you're dog-tired from working whatever job you can; and overwhelmed with figuring out how to find clothes for your kids or how to Pay the electricity bill; and putting catsup on your spaghetti for dinner; and feeling the shame of having holes in your clothes, clothes that you don't have the money to replace; you're not reading Atlas Shrugged and scheming how to make a million bucks.
Or, maybe you are. Because scheming is all you have – no job prospects, no future but the present. $5 worth of lottery tickets every week, to keep the dream alive. Because winning the lottery represents the only hope you have for getting out of this cesshole of a life.
I've been poor. I have lived that life. I've shared my room with cockroaches. I've walked through the snow to the food stamp office in shoes with my toes showing through and my “winter coat” out at elbows. I've stood in line at the Department of Agriculture food giveaways and been grateful for a 5-lb block of American cheese, even though I detest the taste of American cheese. And I've looked at the electricity bill in despair, with no money to pay it; and gone to a friend's house to use the phone, because I couldn't afford one. And tried unsuccessfully to persuade a prospective employer that my lack of a phone and lack of a car would not prevent me from being a reliable employee.
These days, that's all behind me and I live the life of Riley. Living in a comfortable house, driving a luxury car, buying subscriptions to expensive magazines, eating restaurant food several times a week, keeping the thermostat turned up in winter time. Dish Network. High-speed internet. A fancy-sounding job title and business cards to go with it. But, I remember.
It was the gov't that helped me when I needed help. I had nobody else to turn to. Now, in these heady days of wealth and comfort, I want to be the somebody that was not there when I needed them. And I am asking that all of you think about that $1916 a month, and think about the billion of people living on $1.25 a day and open your wallets and purses and look at their contents and remember. Remember that the money therein is a gift from God – and share that gift. Help me, and together, let's be the somebody who lifted someone, somewhere out of the stinking pit of poverty – even if only for a day, make somebody's present brighter than yesterday.
Gandhi said, “What you do is insignificant, but you must do it.” And somebody posted a photograph on Facebook, a photograph of a sign that reads “You have never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” Let's live – let's really live – as Christians.