The purpose of the Poverty Challenge was to give me an experience that more closely emulates the people I serve so that I can better understand their lives and, therefore, bring ministry and teaching that more directly meets their needs.
One of the most important things I learned from this experience is how difficult it is to simulate a poverty situation without going to extremes. I lived on $3.10 each day, yes, but I did so from the comfort of my home, sleeping on my new mattress, and bathing with water that comes from the national system rather than a distant bore hole. Essentially, my experience came down to a choice between diet and exercise. Would I buy food that day (scant though it was) or would I ride the boda the four to five kilometers needed to reach our ministry location? Pick one.
Another glaring reality is that I prepared myself for this experience a week ahead of time by purchasing shoes, Bibles, and other ministry related items so that they wouldn’t come from my daily $3.10 allowance. Further, I knew that after the 10 days I could eat a proper meal and get things done that I otherwise couldn’t have. Those living on less than $3.10 per day don’t plan to be poor—the don’t wake up one day and say, “Honey, this big change is coming, let’s get ready.” Nor can those living on less than $3.10 per day say, “We’ll go see the doctor after we’re done being poor,” or, “Let’s pay school fees after we’re done with poverty.”
Though disappointed in how foolish this exercise seemed to be, I can also say that I learned so much just in the contemplation of these realities. Two big events really brought me pause. My cough was pretty severe and while living on $3.10 per day, I could not afford medicine. This was a very authentic experience—can you imagine having a headache and not being able to take any pain killer? What about watching your children cough up a lung and not being able to provide anything to ease that cough? With my cough came overheating. My body was sweating fiercely because coughing heats the body—that coupled with 90+ degree temperatures really made me extra miserable. The next morning I rose to push forward our ministry appointments despite this misery, but for how long could I sustain this.
Another event that stopped me in my tracks was the theft. During one ministry appointment a child stole my wallet which meant a LOT of money was stolen along with my cards. While this was a terrible situation, I had more money in the bank and could have saved myself. However, under the self-imposed guidelines of this challenge I found myself after dark in a faraway church needing to reach the police and then home and yet having no money to do so. Now I began to understand the African collectivist culture for real. When you get stuck, you ask friends to help. I was incredibly humbled that a pastor friend would pay my transportation home and that another friend offered two days’ worth of Poverty Challenge money to help me continue the agenda. According to the challenge, my work afforded me payment each day and so the next morning I was able to receive my $3.10 again. I used that extra gift to reach police again the next morning to receive a report that allows me to be in the country and then headed to the bank to report my stolen card and apply for a new one. None of these things comes without a cost. Imagine losing your bank card and not having the money to report it stolen, or to get a new one. If you are lucky, your money is there but you have no ID which is also required to withdraw and no bank card.
My own fixation on money was a disappointment. I was so concerned with spending only what I was allowed and how exactly that money would be spent that I left behind faith that God would supply my needs, which he did after the theft in abundance. This fixation gave me some insight into the frequency with which I am asked for money and why. I am thankful I didn’t have to ask for help that night, that friends saw the need and filled it. Oh pride. But if I needed to feed my children or take them to the hospital, I’m quite sure I would have had to overcome that pride and ask for help. From these experiences, I can see how someone could be living above the $3.10 poverty challenge line (which is not the same as the American poverty level), and quickly find themselves stuck because of the unavoidable circumstances.
Though the $3.10 Poverty Challenge did not take the shape I expected, I am most certainly humbled by the many lessons and insights afforded through the experience. Please pray with me for the 68% of the world’s population who find themselves living on less than $3.10 per day. Pray for development programs that allow them to raise themselves out of poverty for good and that they would fight against a victim or dependence mentality and for a way of thinking that honors God in every situation.
If you pledged (or would like to pledge) support for this challenge--$3.10 per day for 10 days—please click here and select “One Time Gift” to submit your $31.00 gift via PayPal.
If you would like to read more about what the challenge was, or to learn about each day of the challenge as I progressed, click the links below.
$3.10 Poverty Challenge (What is it?)
Day 6 The Real Challenge (Theft)