Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Poverty -- a perspective

Once while traveling home from my mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I visited Lima, Peru. Lima is a unique city. The coastal desert of Peru is very dry, it makes the Sonoran Desert look like a jungle. Even though I had lived in Argentina for two years, nothing had prepared me for the poverty of Lima. I was by myself and walked or rode the buses around the city. It took me a while to realize that the cars that were stopping at the bus stops, were actually "buses." The private owners had a route and when they stopped, you just climbed in.

I soon discovered that in Peru, the rich people lived in the center of the city and the poorer people lived on the hills in the "suburbs." I climbed the hills and soon became very concerned for my well being. The pens were full of pigs and chickens and the smell was overpowering. I felt very rich and very vulnerable. I took the picture above and hurriedly left.

Years later, I was living in Panama. I worked in the Church in downtown Panama City, while I was serving in the U.S. Army. I took the above picture from a hill overlooking the city. Now, Panama is much more modern and the downtown is all high rise hotels and offices, but back then the areas with the metal roofs were crowded with the poorest people imaginable. The average occupancy of the downtown area, in some places was 50 people per room. In my work in the Church, I would often go into these poorer areas. By this time in my life I had no fear. I walked through the crowds and the garbage and refuse and felt right at home. I loved the people and I loved the City.

One day we were looking at old pictures from my missionary experience. When I came to the picture at the beginning of this post, I could not remember where this place was. I had not remembered going into a nice prosperous looking suburb, especially one with hills. It took me a long time to realize that this was the "poor" neighborhood in Lima.

I have now seen real poverty. I know what it is like to live without sufficient food or clean drinking water. I know what it is like to have a whole family, mother, father, six or seven children, some married and grandchildren, 23 people living in a one bedroom apartment with one bathroom.

I do not feel that I am any better than any of these people. They are all children of a loving Heavenly Father. But one thing I can say, if you haven't lived with these people you don't know poverty. Losing a few dollars (or even a lot) in the fall of the stock market is no preparation for real poverty. Get a perspective on life and appreciate the great abundance and blessings of our lives. One thing I did learn, we can certainly live happy and well without much more than a tin roof and some rice and beans.