Taking Care of Our Own

Over the past few months, there has been a post making its way around Facebook decrying how much money we invest in other countries when we have so much need here at home. These posts always seem to get supportive replies of agreement. This breaks my heart and, frankly, makes me angry. I haven’t replied or posted about this issue directly, as I’m afraid it would come off as a personal attack on those who re-post that comment, and that’s not my intent. The closest I’ve come to addressing this is posting verses about poverty, like Jeremiah 22:16.

Let me share a bit of background, so you can understand my perspective. Poverty is more than a concept to me. I have traveled overseas to third world countries and have seen real poverty firsthand. Contrary to the stereotype, I have found many of these people to be the most giving, hardworking, people with a strong faith in God that I have rarely, if ever, encountered elsewhere.

To me, poverty is the boy I met in the Guatemala City Dump with a scar on his face from a drunk father who used a broken bottle to punish him for not bringing home enough money one day. It is the boy from the indigenous tribe in India who’s legs were swollen to the point he could barely walk because he was sick and had no access to medical care. It is the “untouchables” I encountered in India who are rejected by society simply because of the caste they were born into. It is the residents I met at leper colonies in the Philippines. It is all these faces and many more.

I used to volunteer with Compassion International. (I eventually had to stop do to my schedule, but it is a solid organization that still I wholeheartedly support.) My primary responsibility was to communicate about poverty in an attempt to find more sponsors for kids in need. I would speak about poverty and Compassion’s work, and work the sponsorship table at other concerts and events.

It wasn’t uncommon for people to tell me that they thought we needed to invest in US needs first. At first, I believed them, but over time my view changed. At the time, Compassion also worked in the US. Not a single person who raised the “USA Needs First” objection ever wanted to hear about Compassion’s US work. Not one. On the occasions when I had the opportunity to ask someone with  “USA Needs First” objections what they were doing to help the poor in the US, no one had an answer. Not one.

Don’t misunderstand me. During that time I met a lot of people who were busy doing their part to help the poor here at home. I can think of numerous conversations I had with people who couldn’t personally get involved with Compassion’s overseas work because they felt called to put their time and treasure into ministries at home. And I don’t have any objection to that at all. However, I never encountered one of them who objected to helping the poor overseas. Not one. Ever. Without exception, the people I encountered who had a heart for the poor at home celebrated helping the poor everywhere.

So, over time, I came to realize that the “USA Needs First” argument wasn’t really an objection at all. It was an excuse to continue doing nothing for the poor. That is why I find that Facebook post so objectionable. Given my experience, I can’t help but have a visceral reaction to what feels like a callous disregard for those in need. When I see people posting supportive replies, to this nonsense, I can’t help but see it as a celebration of the self-centeredness that is so common here in our American culture.

Perhaps the people sharing this Facebook post are referring to government spending. Even if that is the case, the post strikes me as nonsensical at best, callous at worst. I don’t want to delve into politics or the appropriate role of government here. However, let’s take a quick look at the numbers. Last year, between the federal and state governments,  we spent over $727 billion dollars on welfare programs and over a trillion on health care. (Obviously not all of that goes toward the poor. We’d have to drill down into more detail on these numbers for a truly accurate discussion, but this should be sufficient for my point.) It is estimated that we have about 36 million people living below the poverty line here in the US. If the government were capable of funding the end of poverty, then wouldn’t that be enough? If we are spending that much internally, can’t we justify also helping those outside our borders?

Is it fair for me to generalize my experience onto everyone who makes this “US Needs First” argument? No. Am I qualified to judge the hearts of the  people copying this silly Facebook post? No, of course not. However, whether or not it is fair or accurate, it is how I feel.

So, what do you think? Am I off-base? If you or someone you know objects to helping those overseas and is actually involved in helping the poor here at home, I’d love to hear from you, too. Maybe these people really do exist. In any case, please leave a comment with your thoughts.

2 Replies to “Taking Care of Our Own”

  1. Brother, you are brave and bold – but you nailed it. The exceptions to your admitted generalizations will be rare and far between. As someone has also traveled the world to minister to children (14 countries) I am convinced most Americans, unless they have traveled OUT of our Great Land, do not have a concept of poverty like those of us who have. It changes our heart. I say that gently, not judgementally. Americas poor are rich by the world’s standards and often (not always) poor by choice, by refusing to work hard and take advantage of the Great opportunities and programs our nation offers simply non-existant in other lands. They settle for victimization and believing prosperity is owed them because they mistate that the American Dream is not a Right but an Opportunity for those who pursue it through hard work and effort. But I too will try to avoid politic and how our own government has helped cause more poverty here by throwing money along at the poor – so it is good they also give aid overseas where it may actually be doing more good and be more appreciated.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. I just read your post about the poverty in other countries in comparison to our own here in the US. I must say, I have never thought of it that way, about our poor being rich in comparison to these other countries. I now have been inlightened due to your story. I have never thought we should only help our own, because God created all, and just because they are in another country we are all created in His image. I have just recently learned about missions work by my new church. I was never taught on it before in other churches. And wow, I was so excited when we had a man to our church from Africa, and heard his story and the things they do. The love these people had and the smallest things put smiles on their faces. I am greatful for you and those who put themselves aside, and go to those places I only dream of being about to go to and help. I am disabled and recieve Govt. assistance myself. And thank God for every dime I get, and for my health care. To me this is an amazing blessing. Just gonna close with, a God bless you to all those who reach out to anyone in need, and show them the love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and being a true example of Him compassion. Thank you.

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