A little over three years ago, when I came to our University, I asked the question, “What would it look like if Jesus were a professor in my program? What would be important to Him?”
Of course, the answer comes in many different forms, but in answering that question, my heart has been captured by a group of people I tend to think that Jesus cares a lot about. One hundred seventy residents live just a block from our campus in a renovated hotel property, and are a group of mostly formerly homeless residents trying to get back on their feet.
This is the beginning of my fourth year accompanying my students down to their property to share health-related workshops. Twice a year we help host a health fair. Today was one of our health fair days.
There’s nothing miraculous about what we do — take blood pressure, counsel on health concerns, walk blind and illiterate residents around to various stations, chat about life. We always end in a workshop. Today’s was on “Feeling Full on Food Stamps,” helping residents to understand the foods that will fill them up nutritiously for the least price per pound.
Over the years, I feel like I’ve learned just as much about people and poverty as they have learned about healthy living. Maybe more.
Studies on poverty confirm what I have learned from these residents. Poverty is not merely economic, but relational. People in poverty describe their state not as a lack of money, but as feeling a lack of respect, a lack of input, and not mattering to anyone. Hopelessness. Futility.
That’s why you can’t just pour money into impoverished areas and expect them to improve. It’s not about money. It’s about mattering.
More important than blood pressure numbers, grocery store prices, and advice on losing weight, we had the opportunity for a few hours today to let our neighbors know that they matter. With every genuine smile, every name remembered, every warm handshake, every shared laugh, we were gently helping each resident out of poverty.