Spiritual Poverty is the Real Problem
“Let me sleep a little longer!” Sure, just a little more! And as you sleep, poverty creeps upon you like a robber and destroys you; want attacks you in full armor—Proverbs 6:10-11 (TLB).
In 2008, I went on my first mission trip with 19 others from our church to Rio Bravo, Mexico. It was also the first time I’d been out of the country. However, I wasn’t prepared for the abject poverty of the people we served on our trip.
A few weeks before leaving, our senior pastor met with the team to offer encouragement as well as mission guidelines. I still recall two things from that meeting: First, he said, “Being flexible is important.” Although we had plans for the five days we’d be in Mexico, we needed to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Second, because we were traveling to Mexico on our church bus, we could only take one medium suitcase apiece. My response, “Define medium.” While I said it jokingly, I was contemplating the size of my luggage at home.
The Size of Our Blessings
After driving almost 1,000 miles, we arrived in Rio Bravo. We had several projects to complete, including the construction of a 12 x 20 casita for a family of five. The young couple with three girls under 7-years-old, were living in a makeshift dwelling smaller than my walk-in closet. No running water, no electricity, all five lived in the one-room abode.
Our group, ranging in age from 49 to 74, completed the concrete block house in three-and-a-half days. The family’s new house consisted of two doors, three windows, and a loft where the children would sleep. Still no plumbing, no electricity, just a place for the five to lay their heads at night.
As the construction took shape, the young mother’s face radiated excitement. With the finished product, the looks on the faces of the family said it all. It was their mansion. Smiles graced the face of the parents. The children played on the concrete floor of their new home, a step-up from the dirt floor in their previous dwelling. What we take for granted was a luxury for them.
What We Take for Granted
Upon returning home, I realized while unpacking my luggage, that much of what I’d packed wasn’t a necessity. Remembering the poverty we experienced on our mission, I was struck with how blessed we are in this country. Even the poorest of the poor in America have a safety net with programs, both government and through charitable organizations. That isn’t the case in other countries.
On other mission trips overseas, I’ve come to realize how much we take our blessings for granted. We turn on the tap and water flows. We flip a switch and light illuminates a room. Many of us have at least two cars in the garage.
The poor we met had few material blessings, but they have something sorely lacking in America today. Assisting with Vacation Bible School in these less fortunate areas made me aware of the spiritual poverty in our country. The children and adults enthusiastically participated in VBS. Each day, they brought more children with them. They sat quietly while we shared stories of Jesus with them. Simple things, like making crafts and playing with bubbles, brought smiles and giggles. Missing were the trappings of an affluent society.
Trapped by Our Desires
The abundance of material goods in America cannot fill the needs of the soul. We’ve become trapped by our desires for the latest and greatest gadgets. Our focus is on the external instead of the eternal. In 1John 2:15-16, the apostle writes “Do not love the world, or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.”
If you’ve been on this earth more than 60 years, like I have, you’ve witnessed a revolution of change. A Gallup blog post, dated August 2019, listed 10 major social changes in the 50 years since Woodstock. Number one on the list was the waning of religious attachment. Two Gallup polls, one in 1965 and a second in 1978, showed a sharp decline in what they termed “religiosity.” The percentage of Americans saying religion was important to them fell from 70 percent to 52 percent. In the last 15 years, church attendance has dropped even more precipitously.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “When we look at modern man, we have to face the fact…that modern man suffers from a kind of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to his scientific and technological abundance; We’ve learned to fly the air like birds, we’ve learned to swim the seas like fish, and yet we haven’t learned to walk the Earth as brothers and sisters…” Could this account for the decline in civility and intolerance in society? Have we, in our pride, forgotten how much we need God?