So this weekend, my Elevate PM class and a few other groups did a Poverty Simulation provided by Mission Waco. The point of the weekend is to get into the shoes of the impoverished. Literally...the shoes.The clothes. Into the reality of not knowing where the next meal was, sleeping outside, drinking from water hoses, relying on the generosity of others, walking everywhere, etc.
Well I started to write out all the interesting details of what happened this weekend, but I realized that to tell it all would take something away from it. The experience can't be summed up that way. It was more than just a series of happenings. There are deep things that I am going to be stewing on for a while...
Our class was encouraged to ask 2 questions:
1) After this experience, what is God wanting ME to do?
2) And what does he want US to do as a class as a response?
If I am to understand God's heart for the poor, then I need to know what His Word says about the poor. I have read so many scriptures about money and the lack of it, but I really need to read them in a new light after this weekend. So here's the first one I found:
"He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God." (Proverbs 14:34).
When we speak badly of the poor and treat them wrongly, not only are we dishonoring God, but we are saying that what He created is not good and is not valuable. We are placing ourselves high and the poor low.
I'll share a cool story from the Poverty Sim:
On Saturday morning, we were put into groups of 5 or 6 and given a Scavenger Hunt list and a time limit. Our first task was to "find lunch." At this point I was getting hungry b/c I didn't have much to eat the night before and no breakfast that morning. We were not anywhere near a fast food restaurant, but we thought we could get a free lunch at the Salvation Army, which is downtown. So we walked for what seemed like forever in the heat, and even started running b/c we weren't sure what time they closed. When we finally got there, a sign on the door let us know it was too late. We even went into the office and asked if there were any meals left over, or if the person behind the desk knew of another place we could get a free lunch. He said no, but that we could come back for dinner at 5:30.
So we had to come up with another plan. As a group, we felt like we should go to the Fast Food Junction (not really the name...but some fast food around BU/I-35 area). We all split up and went in search of a handout. Liz and I asked at Sonic if they had any leftover food they were going to throw away. The lady said, "Oh, is it for the homeless?" We said yes. B/c we were! I think she thought we were going to take it to the homeless, b/c at that point we weren't that smelly or gross looking. Anyway she said it would all be in the dumpster. Liz had already jumped in the dumpster and hadn't found anything except a few coke cans (which we had to collect 100 of).
Then Anna went into Fazolis and Davin and I stopped to talk to a homeless guy pushing a cart of stuff. One of our check-offs was to talk to a homeless person. So we introduced ourselves and asked J.D. about his story. He tried to ask us for money, but we said we were looking for money and/or lunch as well...and that if we found lunch, we would definitely share with him. So he told us how at age 18, he got in a really bad accident and had head trauma and injured his leg. He was in a coma for 9 months and didn't think he was going to live. He said he can't read or write now because of the brain damage. He hitchhiked here from Mineral Wells, TX in search of his dad, who supposedly lives in Waco. Said he's been here 12 years and hasn't found him. We asked if we could pray for him that he'd find is dad and he let us. I felt like I was supposed to lay my hand on him as we prayed b/c I felt like God was saying this is my child and you are not above touching him. He was a gaunt little man. About that time his friend came up with his shopping cart and applauded us for praying for J.D. He said that he was a hurricane Katrina victim and lost several relatives b/c of it and was subsequently brought to Waco. They both said they knew the Lord and would be at Church Under the Bridge on Sunday. We said bye to them and that we would see them the next day at church.
So then Anna comes out with 2 pieces of pizza and 6 bread sticks that the manager gave her. We were so excited! But it still wasn't enough for a lunch for all of us. Liz came over and had obtained 2 dollars from a lady in line for the bus. Go Liz! Ashley and I got turned down for food in Taco Cabana. We were all in survival mode, being bold and really going for it. Then we decided we needed at least one or two more dollars so that we could all have a meal and the plan was to get something off the Wendy's dollar menu. So Liz and I went to the Valero and asked an older guy, (who had just done a bike race in Waco), if he had a dollar he could spare because we didn't have money for lunch. He hesitantly said yes...but this was after he looked us up and down. We had all been in a few dumpsters collecting cans so we all felt slimy and gross. Dumpster juice on our clothes...yuck. Then he went to his car and only had a 5. Before he handed it to us, he said I don't have a dollar, but I have a 5...but first I wanna know...are you being honest with me?
Talk about humbling. It was hard enough to ask for money, especially since we didn't look legitimately starving or anything. Then we got the stare down, then the call for honesty. We said yes, we are, and thanked him generously, to which he didn't really reply you're welcome. I wondered if he was a Christian. Liz and I felt convicted for all the times we have judged the homeless or given them a dollar when we had more we could've given. Nonetheless, we were so grateful that even in his skepticism, he gave! Lord, bless that man!!
What's cool is that while Ash and them were waiting on us at Wendy's, she had prayed that God would give us $5!!
So at that point, we had gotten 7 bucks. We gave the pizza away to 2 girls that were doing poverty sim in another group because they hadn't had any luck and looked pretty worried. Then we each got a double stack cheeseburger from Wendy's!
We had a little money left, but not enough for dessert, and somebody mentioned Subway cookies were 3 for a dollar. Liz then asked some young guys at Wendy's if they had any change and they gave like 2 or 3 dollars! But they did question her what it was for, etc. And I went up to a table of youth who were just talking but were done eating, and asked if they had anything left over that they didn't want. They gave me half a carton of fries, which meant we each got a few. Then as that group left, 2 girls came over to us and gave us the remainder of their fry! Also, Wendy's made an extra burger by accident, but gave it to us, and we were able to give that one away to J.D., who Davin and I had prayed with earlier! Cool! :)
We felt over-the-top blessed and taken care of...and by the time we all had eaten dessert, we were full! Then, to add to the blessing, while we were on Baylor's campus, digging through more dumpsters and recycling bins for cans -(we were out of the dumpster at this point) - and a guy walking from the cafeteria said, "Hey, I know it's really hot out here. Do you guys want some ice cream? Thank you for recycling! God bless you!!" and he gave us 2 Bluebell ice cream bars!
We were all just appalled at our good fortune. It could've gone the complete opposite way. We experienced God as provider in a new way that day. That was probably the most powerful experience for me of the weekend's events. I'm still reflecting about everything, and I'm sure you'll hear more about my thoughts on poverty in blogs to come as I begin to dialogue with the Lord and he re-orients my heart. I think it stirred up in a lot of our group members that we are just the same as the poor, but were given a different deck of cards to play with. Granted, bad v. good choices are a factor...but imagine growing up in a slum. You are pretty powerless and who knows if you'd rise above.
We watched a few videos that brought it into perspective even more. My whole life, I've been empowered and encouraged...by my family, church community, opportunity for education and career, etc. People were there to push me and inspire me to reach for my goals. I got to go to college and now have a good job to pay off those loans. But not everyone gets that blessing. The marginalized are not always to be faulted. And I am so quick to make that initial judgment without knowing anything about the person and what they've been through. It made me want to know more homeless people's stories. I want to start loving and understanding them. And how can I really understand them if I never interact with them and if all I see of the poor is that they are lazy and just take advantage of people. So far I think I've mustered up some pity on the poor...but not mercy. How would Jesus treat the poor? Would he yell in their face that it's their own fault? Would he see them as roadside trash? Or would he meet their needs and minister to them in their place of need?
Did Jesus join in and stone the woman caught in adultery in the Bible? No. He instead challenged that if any man amongst the crowd has not sinned, that he should cast the first stone. Romans 6:23 says we have ALL sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
What I love is that Mission Waco really empowers the poor. They haven't just preached Jesus at them, then left them in the streets to die. They have so many programs that can help people get on their feet if they want it. And sadly, not everyone wants to get on their feet. But God bless Mission Waco and their staff for humbling themselves to be in a place of availability for those in our community who do want help out of addiction, out of unemployment, out of a life of poverty and despair. I am so thankful that through the ministry of Jimmy and Janet Dorrell, mouths and souls alike are being fed. It makes me wish, after meeting them this weekend, that I would've taken the Poverty in Waco class that was offered at Baylor.