There is an image of poverty that I used to carry in my head that looked like a child in rags. The child was very sad. What I have discovered over the years is that while endemic poverty is no gateway to happiness, it does not have the ability to keep people from the experience of joy. Let me be clear, before you think that I am going to paint the picture of the happy poor person, poverty stinks. Poverty at the level you find in many developing countries like Sierra Leone means that 1 in 5 children will die of a disease before the age of 5. One in 25 women who bear a child will die from a related complication. Hunger will be a part of your life. Finding water during the dry season may be a daily challenge. While other kids go to school, which requires a uniform, supplies, and a small fee for tuition, your kid will work in the market or some other place. The list goes on, but I want to be clear that poverty is not God’s idea, and it is not good for anybody.
But it does not have the power to preclude joy, which is what I was reminded of all day. I was reminded at church, where the congregation shared two offerings with singing and dancing before the ushers came later to take the offering two more times. After the service one of the members told me with great excitement that they had all made pledges to have the church painted and repaired before the 60th anniversary celebration. These are people who have very little, but share the little they have with trust that God will provide.
I was again reminded when we took a walk with some of the CRC kids. There is a crocodile nearby and you don’t get the chance to visit a crocodile every Sunday, so we walked up and saw him. All along the way our group of 20 was laughing and talking. They took us through town and showed us the fire and police stations, the market, and the original CRC building. The kids were so proud to show us these things, and had so much fun doing it. I realized that they truly see themselves as children of God. They live in a dimension of joy that poverty has not had the power to break.