|Zack Distributing Maize|
Several months ago, we began partnering with a Kenyan national on an HIV project feeding women and families who are HIV positive once per month. You may recognize hearing about him in this earlier post. A couple of months ago, Zack showed up at our door and said, "I have a domestic problem." The way he said it almost made me laugh. Then he explained that his wife was down at the hospital. They had been expecting a baby, but began to fear something was wrong. The hospital ultrasound revealed no heartbeat. They'd lost the baby. I was embarrassed at my initial flippant attitude.
He quickly explained that surgery was necessary but they could not afford it. The bill was to be nearly 400 dollars. He asked us for a loan of the money. He was frantic.
I was concerned; Four hundred dollars is over half the average annual income of 730 US dollars... an income most probably inflated by a few incredibly wealthy individuals - the ones driving brand new Mercedes, Lexus, and Hummers through dirt streets. We paid about half the bill as a gift and the other half as a loan.
I felt totally conflicted. Were we helping? Was a loan fair?
I felt like an idiot. How much could Zack earn as a piki (motorcycle) driver? It wasn't even his piki. I couldn't imagine his profit was very much.
Things were fine until a few weeks later - only two days after our ride to the HIV project, actually. Zack dropped by to tell me more news. The owner of the piki had sold it and was starting a new business. Zack was unemployed. Shame and fear were written all over his face.
We left the next day for a trip to Mombasa. When we returned a week later, I received a text message from Zack, "Is there any way you can help. I want to avoid the starving situation."
A few days ago, Zack and I sat down to work out a loan to get him back in business. As we talked numbers and terms it became clear what his financial situation was. He had been making around $3.75 a day six days per week to feed, clothe and house himself and his wife. How long would it take to repay that $200 medical loan?
Then I calculated his annual income: 1,211 dollars. Much BETTER than average. An income that had been 166 percent of average was now zero.
The food I eat for a SINGLE meal here in Kenya probably costs about $3.75, to say nothing of food, housing, clothing, etc...
I asked Zack how he'd cope with such a debt. "Maybe eat less. Maybe if you are taking meat with some meals, instead you take maize. If you are taking milk in your chai, you take the chai black. If it is only for a time, it is ok."
One unplanned emergency and he was stuck under a mountain of debt. Two and his situation was hopeless. This, a man with a better-than-average income. It's then I really began to grasp the true nature of poverty - it's a trap.
I still feel incredibly convicted on this subject and I STILL have no idea what to do. The sheer scale of my wealth is humbling. The much larger problem of poverty paralyzes my thoughts. How do we help?
"Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday." Isaiah 58:9-10 ESV