So I have some thoughts I want to share. These thought are inspired by my Economic Development degree, I’m sure. They’re also inspired by a trip to Africa looking at poverty and talking to African (Ghanaian, specifically) government officials about what can be done to help their developing economies. And, finally, they are inspired by seeing what it looks like when some of the poorest people in the world, African refugees, are joltingly transplanted onto American soil.
On Monday night, a group of friends and I went down to some Dallas apartments to, basically, just play with Somali refugee children. They’ve been here about a year, I think. Straight from the camps where they’d been living for up to 15 years in Somalia to inner-city Dallas where they’ve been about a year, they said. They’re new enough on the block not to speak english very well. They’re new enough that when you step into the apartment complex it really does feel like Africa in Dallas. It even looks the same. All the people gathered around outside, doors unlocked and open (because in Africa you are social and there is no way around it, none of those “fences” or “dead bolts” or anything. What’s yours is everybody’s, your money, your food, your house), the older children are carrying around the babies in slings on their backs, most of them are barefoot and dirty.
Let me tell you, it was so much fun! I got to hold this one little boy that was a little less than 2, probably, wearing a purple soccer jersey and a diaper, running around barefoot. This was not a place you want your babies running around barefoot, by the way. Later on, we did a little Bible lesson/play, and I got to hold a 3 month old during the whole thing and watch her be completely captivated by the leaves swaying in the trees.
Only later on, after all the kids had gone home, did we hear about any hardships they had at home. They didn’t always have food. They obviously didn’t all have clothes. Their apartments were broken into and things stolen. They had to watch out for strangers. They lived in a dangerous part of town and they knew it. They were from a completely different culture, didn’t speak the language (I know how hard it is to live in a place where you don’t speak the language), and weren’t even christians who could have connections through churches to help them.
I thought how hard life is for them. And, honestly, I don’t always know that it is better for them here. What?, I know you’re thinking. In America, they have freedom. They have a chance for a good home, good job, and education. They come from refugee camps, for crying out loud.
Here’s what I mean, and it’s alluded to in the documentary “Lost Boys of Sudan”. This film follows Sudanese orphans living in refugee camps to when they are taken to America for “better opportunities”. They are given an apartment, get jobs, some go back to high school, make friends. Here’s the thing: the vast majority of them wish to go back to the refugee camps. They hate having to work so much for so little return. They say they never get to enjoy life. They miss gathering with people at night to dance and sing. I knew what they were talking about because I saw it when Nate and I went to Africa 2 years ago. A few days after watching it, I was substitute teaching in a class where there was a native Kenyan. I brought it up with him. He was in a nice high school, he’d probably get to go to college, he was very smart, had nice clothes on, said he lived in a nice house. Lots of friends, it looked like. He had moved to Texas when he was 9. Now, at 17, with all he had before him, he said he’d rather go back to Africa. “Everyone is so poor, but they are so happy about life,” he said. “Everyone really enjoys each other, and you go to work during the day, but then you come home and play.” And it’s true, I’m having this conversation with you on a computer, for crying out loud.
Oftentimes, we see pictures of Africans running around barefoot and dirty, but have you noticed how often they’re smiling? When I went to Ghana, they ALWAYS smiled. They always went outside with their friends at night and played soccer and lived and loved in spite of poverty, in spite of lack of everything. You see this in other places where there are poor: Africa, Mexico and Latin America, India. Even in Bosnia people get off of work at 2 in the afternoon so that they can eat a big lunch with their friends and go to the cafes at night.
I think an American’s biggest fear is being poor and being ugly. Ha. But I really think it’s true. When we imagine poverty we just think of this miserable life (where you suddenly turn ugly?). But the poor are so much closer to the way things should be. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not making light of ANY hardships that the poor go through. Definitely, definitely not saying we shouldn’t help them. The opposite, actually. But I have a part 2 to this post in which I’ll talk about all that later. And, it is true, being poor will not make you happy. God will. But, what I’m saying is that God is close to the poor. Jesus was poor. He chose to live very simply on purpose. And he used the freedom, yes, the freedom, that came with that to minister to the poor. Through sharing everything he had, through praying, through the simplest of all ministries—loving them. Eating with them, hugging them, speaking and talking to with them.
Let me take this time to say that I’m talking about this because I don’t really understand what must be poverty of spirit. And I’m sure I’m making a lot of assumptions and statements full of erroneous thoughts. But I really want to understand it. Yes, to help me in this life. But, really, because I think living that way holds a key to something in the next life. When we get to heaven, the poor little orphan in Africa who trusted God for everything will live better than a king. I’ll put up more thoughts on this tomorrow…But, all this is to say, I don’t know who was more blessed when we went to play with the Somali children, the children or us.