“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Friday, September 30, 2011

"the poorest of the poor"

When I was in Kampala, Uganda this summer, my host, Jeff Atherstone found out about my addiction (I mean love) for coffee and said he would take me on the "Kampala Coffee tour" which I think is something he made up. But it was great going to these various coffee places which were all slightly different and all excellent. I think my favorite would have been a place called 1000 Cups, but I ordered this goofy thing with mint in it. Anyway, at one stop we met with a friend of mine who is working in Kampala at the moment. As we were sitting there enjoying our lattes, a friend of hers walked up from a relief organization that was working there in Uganda. He introduced himself as being with this organization that is working with poor folks living there. He gave me his business card which had the tag line in quotes at the bottom, "working with the poorest of the poor." I immediately had a question, but was afraid that I knew that answer and didn't really want to embarass my friend, but I decided to ask him the question anyway.

"You work with the poorest of the poor?"
"Yes we do!" he replied proudly.
"Then you with poor people who are disabled?"
"Well, no, we don't work with disabled people."
"Well, then you really don't work with the poorest of the poor. Because the poorest would be those with disabilities among those living in poverty."

I didn't push it any further, however, both my friend, my host, my traveling companion and even the guy working with the poorest of the poor knew I was right. He had to walk away understanding that the claim on his business card was not correct. Hopefully he would follow up with a discussion with those who were in leadership with him or above him about the statement. At the very least, I hope he would have to hedge a bit the next time he described his organization as working with the poorest of the poor, basically because it is NOT TRUE!

So often when you talk to Christian leaders about those with disabilities and that they should reach out to people having this socially devalued characteristic, their response is, "I didn't know." I have to say that I don't believe them. As soon as I ask this guy, who I am sure has a huge heart for people living in poverty, who is spending his life, his talents with the poor of Africa which is no small thing, immediately he recognized that I was right. He knew he was NOT working with the poorest of the poor. I didn't need to explain anything to him. All I needed to do was mention that disabled poor people are poorer and he immediately recognized it.

So why then are they not working with that group of people if it is so obvious that they are the poorest of the poor and they identify themselves as working with the poorest of the poor? I can only say that these omissions are representative of choices. I choose to work with a particular group of people with one characteristic and choose not to work with another group of people with another characteristic. It is a choice. It is not an oversight. If it were not a choice, then if this organization who claims to be working with the poorest of the poor, would respond with immediate action! "Oh my goodness! We didn't realize that we were not getting to those who are in the most desperate condition of poverty! Thank you for bringing this to our attention." But if the response is a casual, "No we don't work with people with disabilities who are poor" then you must understand that this is a choice to NOT do what your tagline says you are doing.

Look at the mission statements for any Christian organization (just about) and wonder whether that statement would include outreach to people with disabilities. Then look at that church, that organization and see whether they are doing what they actually claim to be doing as evidenced by the presence of EVERYONE who should be included in their mission. If people with disabilities are not there, it is probably a choice on their part to exclude, not an oversight.


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