Posts tagged ‘Poverty’

Venezuelan Victims

Venezuela Slum.jpg

As our national attention is riveted on a myriad of local stories, most of which are political in nature, the people of Venezuela are languishing.  In what is perhaps one of the most underreported stories of this year, Venezuelans are on the brink of staging an all out revolt.  Tensions are so high in this volatile South American nation that even the future of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro is uncertain.

A confluence of calamities has brought the country to the brink of collapse. Plummeting crude oil prices have pilfered Venezuela’s economy and a severe drought has strained the nation’s hydroelectric power supply, forcing the government to enact rolling blackouts and enforce a two-day work week just to save power.  Along with these troubles, food is becoming scarce and medical care is becoming even poorer than it already was.  A headline from The New York Times says it all: “Dying Infants and No Medicine: Inside Venezuela’s Failing Hospitals.”

Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis is something that deserves and demands our attention and thoughtfulness.  There are lessons to be learned here.

We can learn that corruption – no matter how powerful it may seem for a season – cannot stand.  Like Hugo Chavez before him, Mr. Maduro is a corrupt head of a corrupt government.  By one count, government officials there have stolen some $350 billion public tax dollars, using them to line their personal pockets.  Outside economic factors certainly play a roll in Venezuela’s high poverty rate, but the government isn’t helping matters.  Venezuela’s politicians are stealing from their own people, taxing them into poverty while they live in luxury.  And the people have had enough.  And they are revolting.

The apostle Paul reminds us that the government is “that which God has established” (Romans 13:1).  And this is certainly true.  God establishes governing authorities and we are to respect and pray for them.  But, to borrow a phrase from Job, “The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away” (Job 1:21).  If history is any indication, the Lord has no problem wresting power from governments that would misuse and abuse their authority against their own people.  And the Venezuelan government’s turn for downfall – with Mr. Maduro at its head – may be coming soon.

It is also important to point out that human crises, no matter how foreign or far away they may seem from our perspective, cry out for our compassion and attention. Scenes of cold incubators and critically wounded people in squalid conditions betray not only the incompetence and corruption of a government that demands our repudiation, but the pain and fear of a people who deserve our compassion.  Stories of people’s pain – even if they’re a hemisphere away – demand our engagement.

All this is to say that Venezuela needs a change.  What is happening there now cannot continue.  Americans, understandably, have not been all too friendly with the Venezuelan government.  And this is wise.  Cozying up to corruption, after all, only breeds and makes one complicit in further corruption.  Furthermore, sending relief to the Venezuelan people is complicated.  What we send often ends up in the wrong hands.  But even with these complicating factors, the Venezuelan people are hurting.  And as such, they deserve our notice – and our prayers.

May they find the relief, the resources, and the freedom they seek.

May 23, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Problem with Poverty

Poverty 1“The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus said (Matthew 26:11).  This is most certainly true.  Our best-laid plans to abolish poverty have fallen woefully short.  New York Times journalist Nicholas D. Kristof shines a spotlight on just how short our plans have fallen in his recent column titled, “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy.”[1]  His opening paragraphs are bone chilling:

This is what poverty sometimes looks like in America:  parents here in Appalachian hill country pulling their children out of literacy classes. Moms and dads fear that if kids learn to read, they are less likely to qualify for a monthly check for having an intellectual disability.

Many people in hillside mobile homes here are poor and desperate, and a $698 monthly check per child from the Supplemental Security Income program goes a long way – and those checks continue until the child turns 18.

A plan that seeks to alleviate poverty in the form of Supplemental Security Income in some instances actually perpetuates it.  After all, there is no immediate economic payoff for having a son or daughter learn how to read, only a potential loss.  And though a myriad of statistics could be marshaled concerning how, over the long haul, children who enjoy solid educations early in life enjoy economic and social stability later in life, these parents can’t afford to concern themselves with “the long haul.”  They’re just concerned about their next meal.  And so these parents are pressed into a self-perpetuating poverty.

“The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus said.  This means two things.  First, it means that the sinfulness that leads to poverty will always be with us and in us, at least on this side of the Eschaton.  There will always be some people who are lazy and refuse to work, placing themselves in poverty’s grip and on the government’s dole.  There will always be some people who are victims of economic injustice – just ask those who were bamboozled by Bernie Madoff.  There will always be some people who, because of some fortuitous tragic circumstance – a devastating illness, a lost job, a natural disaster – find themselves with bills they can’t pay and a family they can’t support.  Satan will continue to find delight in impoverishing people.

And yet, Jesus’ words are not only a commentary on human sinfulness, they are also a call to Christian action.  For with His words, Jesus opens for us plenty of opportunities to show mercy.  After all, there are hungry people for us to feed.  There are naked people for us to clothe.  There are hopeless people for us to encourage.  There are plenty of people to which we can offer a cup of water in Jesus’ name (cf. Mark 9:41).  In fact, I love how Mark records Jesus’ statement:  “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want” (Mark 14:27).

Jesus says, “You can help.”  So let’s get to it!  How and who can you help this holiday season?  Maybe you can serve at a soup kitchen.  Maybe you can visit someone who is lonely.  That’s your mission.  That’s your calling.  And, as Jesus says, you can carry out that mission “any time you want” – even beyond the holidays.

I hope you will.

[1] Nicholas D. Kristof, “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy,” New York Times (12.7.12).

December 17, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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