The Stench of Poverty

21 02 2014

By Alex Kahtava, World Hunger-Tangible Love Team lead
Excerpted from the Community of Christ evangelist blog

For children in poverty, water from a borehole, or well, can be life changing.

For children in poverty, water from a borehole, or well, can be life changing.

Years ago I was in an overcrowded city to share in a congregation. It was in what some describe as an urban slum. As I plodded toward the church, it seemed this was not my first visit. Yet I had never been in the city. What was so familiar?

I saw buildings, signs, markets, and people. All were new…yet everything tugged at my inner being—I’ve been here before.

Finally I stopped, closed my eyes, put my hands over my ears, and realized: It was the smell. It was the stench of poverty. The odor had filled my nostrils in many parts of the world. The people and languages were different, yet the smell remained. The experience repeated over and over for years.

It was the stench of unfulfilled hopes and dreams, despair, and hopelessness. Yes, poverty has a smell, described by someone as being like “dried fish, burning garbage, and body odor.”

That stench remains with me today and causes me a dilemma. On one hand there is a passion that the stench of poverty be gone forever from all places. On the other hand is a passion that the stench permeate every worship service, business meeting, conference, reunion, and retreat—whenever two or more gather in his name—so decisions are made and actions taken to replace the stench with the hope of the peaceable kingdom.

Each worship service I am reminded of the stench when I realize about 29,000 children under 5 die each day from poverty-related causes (http://www.unicef.org/mdg/childmortalityhtml). What is being said and prayed in that worship that challenges us personally and collectively to confront the evil at the heart of hunger bred by poverty?

In Compassion: A Reflection of the Christian Life, authors Henri J.M. Nouwen, Donald P. McNeil, and Douglas A. Morrison follow a reference to Matthew 25:31–46 NRSV with this statement:

Action with and for those who suffer is the concrete expression of the compassionate life and the final criterion of being a Christian. Such acts do not stand beside the moments of prayer and worship but are themselves such moments. Why? Because Jesus Christ, who did not cling to his divinity, but became as we are, can be found where there are hungry, thirsty, alienated, naked, sick, and imprisoned people. Precisely when we live in an ongoing conversation with Christ and allow the Spirit to guide our lives, we will recognize Christ in the poor, the oppressed, and the down-trodden, and will hear his cry and respond to it wherever he is revealed.

My journey continues, my nostrils still filled with the stench of poverty. And I am aware the stench permeates my neighborhood, my community, my city…


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22 02 2014
William RAISER

Thanks for the odor of your remarks. An odor that should fill us all and incline us to learn why poverty exists and how we can work to change the societal process that produce it in the midst of the abundance of the Kingdom. May the odor haunt us all.




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