But Shouldn’t We Focus on Helping the Poor Here at Home?

Jason Micheli —  July 18, 2013 — 5 Comments

10109_10200197878452575_1696261927_nWe just got back from Guatemala, working on the first phase of building a sanitation system in the community of Chuicutama in the Highlands of Guatemala. If you’d like to learn more and/or support our work, as it’s a multiyear project, you can do so by clicking here:

    Guatemala Toilet Project.

Before we left a few asked me: Shouldn’t we focus on helping the poor here at home?

As though we have to choose between them.

I bristle whenever anyone asks a question like that.

First, as I like to say, Christians, not just doctors, are without borders.

Second, as I’ve frequently whined, unless you’re talking about Indian Reservations (which you’re likely not) there’s no real comparison between poverty in the developing world and the poor in the United States.

Even the poorest of the poor here can walk into a gas station and get a glass of clean water.

That’s the exception in most places.

For example:

In his book Globalization, Spirituality, and Justice, Daniel Groody has summarized an array of statistical data in compiling a snapshot of the world as if it were a “global village of 100 people.”

In that village “the resources are unevenly distributed.”

The richest person in the village has as much as the poorest 57 taken together.

Fifty do not have a reliable source of food and are hungry some or all of the time, and 30 suffer malnutrition.

Forty do not have access to adequate sanitation.

31 people live in substandard housing.

31 do not have electricity; 18 are unable to read.

15 do not have access to safe drinking water.

Only 16 people have access to the internet.

Only 12 own an automobile.

Three are immigrating.

And only two have a college education.

Overall, 19 struggle to survive on one dollar per day or less.

48 struggle to live on two dollars a day or less.

In brief, as the World Bank describes it, two thirds of the planet lives in poverty.

Groody also shares some startling statistics about what he calls “our collective spending patterns as a human family in relationship to basic human needs.”

According to these figures, the world spent as much money on fragrances as all of Africa and the Middle East spent on education in 2005. The world spends almost as much money on toys and games as the poorest one-fifth of the world’s population earns in a year. The United States and Europe spent nearly ninety times as much on luxury items as the amount of money that would be needed to provide safe drinking water and basic sanitation for those in our global village who do not have these necessities now.   Moreover, it is sobering to consider that the world spends nearly four times as much on alcohol as on international development aid.

Every hour more than 1,200 children die of preventable diseases, which is the equivalent of three tsunamis each month.

Yet even the smallest reductions in military expenditures could dramatically affect human development.

For one day’s military spending, we could virtually eliminate malaria in Africa.

For what we spend in two days on the military, we could provide the health care services necessary to prevent the deaths of three million infants a year.

For less than a week’s military spending, we could educate each of the 140 million children in developing countries who have never attended schools.


Jason Micheli


5 responses to But Shouldn’t We Focus on Helping the Poor Here at Home?

  1. Joshua Trimble July 20, 2013 at 10:20 AM

    What is your obsession with military spending? Why not choose any other federal government spending? Are you implying something, because it certainly would appear that way and I would prefer for the statement to be made as opposed to an implied statement?

    • Jason Micheli July 20, 2013 at 7:55 PM

      Looking back at the post, I realized I didn’t note as I did in the previous posts that this is actually something I wrote with another person, Barry Penn Hollar. I only wrote the beginning (but that makes it sound like a cop out). The points about military spending aren’t his necessarily but just a summary of the points made in the book cited.

      For me, I don’t think I’m obsessed with military spending. The size of the military budget just makes it easier to note what other priorities could be accomplished with just small changes to the status quo. Of course, I just got back from Guatemala and while the what-could-be-done-with-X-amount-of-money illustration is interesting, Guatemala convinces me allocating government money towards ‘service’ programs in the developing world is a terrible idea. Guatemala, like Haiti and Cambodia et al, is flooded with church and foreign aid and much of it never gets where it’s needed or its used in a way that frustrates empowerment and only increases dependency.

  2. Mike DiVittorio July 21, 2013 at 9:39 AM

    How do you reconcile the words of Jesus that, “for the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not always have.”. It seems like such a flippant response to the expensive indulgence of anointing his feet with expensive oil. I am all for helping the poor either in Third world countries or here in the US but Jesus seems to be throwing his hands in the air and coming to the conclusion that no matter what you do the realty is there will always be the problem of poverty.

    • Jason Micheli July 23, 2013 at 8:49 AM

      You should’ve asked this question Saturday Mike! One way of thinking through it, I think, is to identify Jesus as ‘the poor.’ The same Gospel already makes that connection when Jesus says upon what basis we’ll be judged. I don’t think it’s Jesus throwing up his hands as Jesus has already said the Kingdom belongs to such people, and, if the Kingdom, then the arc of history goes their way too. Kurt Vonnegutt actually has a great ‘sermon’ on this text in his book, Palm Sunday.

      • Mike DiVittorio July 23, 2013 at 12:50 PM

        I have always been confused by the statement. Just seems so out of character. If it was just him having a bad day it probably would have never been recorded. There must be a lesson in it somewhere!

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