Posts Tagged ‘write31days’

13th October
written by Michelle


I realize I am making an erroneous leap, assuming that all cross-cultural workers are working with people in poverty. I know that is not the case. There are cross-cultural conversations happening all the time across board rooms and school rooms that involve people from two different cultures, but similar level of socioeconomic status (SES). However, there are a large proportion of cross-cultural workers who are partnering with people in poverty. And it is for them that I address this question.

How do you define poverty?

Because I am going to suggest that how we define poverty deeply affects how we seek to alleviate it.

Most people from the US automatically define poverty in terms of a lack of material things. Be it water, health insurance, a home or a job. Most North Americans, especially those who have not spent much time with people who live in poverty, think the lack of these material things is what constitutes poverty. And it’s true in part. There are real hardships when you don’t have access to basic material things. However, when the World Bank* asked 60,000 people living around the world in poverty to describe “what is poverty?” 90% of the time they described an emotional or physiological feeling, not a lack of material things. What people mentioned was lacking dignity and not having enough opportunities. They said poverty was feeling like your voice didn’t matter, or worse, that they didn’t matter. People mentioned having the desire to be seen and to be listened to. They talked about feeling shame and embarrassment.

Our staff and organization has spent a lot of time reading and discussing,  When Helping Hurts.  If you’re looking for just one resource to challenge the way you or your non-profit board or church thinks about poverty I can’t recommend it enough. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert weave their unique experiences of local and international work in cross-cultural settings and their background in economic development together. The Chalmers Center has done extensive reasearch and training in helping cross-cultural workers better understand how to alleviate poverty.

One of the things that I have loved is how they expand the definition to include 4 different types of poverty:

  1. Poverty of Being - a broken relationships with Self. I call it Emotional Poverty and it can be from having a low self-esteem, not valuing yourself or on the other end thinking too highly of yourself, having what the authors call a “savior complex.”
  2. Poverty of Community- a broken relations with Others. I think of it as Relational Poverty. What relationships are broken in your life, either in your neighborhood or across the globe? Abuse and exploitation of others fits into this relational poverty both from a micro standpoint, like in a family system and a more macro standpoint, like from a systemic or societal cause.
  3. Poverty of Stewardship- a broken relationship with nature or creation. I think of this has Environmental Poverty. It is not just poorly caring of our earth and environment, although that is part of it. But it is also the poverty of not being able to work or to have a sense of purpose.
  4. Poverty of Spiritual Intimacy- a broken relationship with God. I think of this has Spiritual Poverty. It comes from the idea that all people are spiritual beings and when we live disconnected, un-purposeful lives or place our self-worth in what we have we become broken from God and our spiritual selves.

Now they obviously see poverty and the world through a Christian lens, but even if you don’t identify as a Christian, I think you can still use these descriptions to help understand the different types of poverty in your life or community.

So you see, when we talk about the materially poor in our world we are not just talking about people who don’t have access to food and basic water and sanitation. That would be too one-demensional. We are talking about people, complex, three-dementias, whole people.

When we talk about poverty we are talking about people who yes, often lack materially things, but also lack the purpose and meaning that comes from having  job and an economic system that provides security and safety. These are people who often lack trust in relationships or have lost people close to them and with that comes certain kind of poverty. There are people who suffer environmental poverty because corrupt governments have contained their rivers and land and they have no option for clean drinking water.

I am not saying all poverty is created equal. Or that the relational poverty you feel when you and your neighbor can’t agree is the same kind of poverty a woman in Ethiopia feels when she has to choose between buying medicine for her baby or food to feed her family. By gosh, no.

But what I am saying is that before we try to help the materially poor, we have to fist identify and acknowledge what is our own poverty?

More on that tomorrow.

For previous questions in the 31 Questions for Cross-Cultural Workers Series click here.

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about poverty and development, but don’t have time to read a book, you can watch this 15-min video from the Chalmers Webpage which has some great resources.

*World Bank fact came from the afore-mentioned video 

1st October
written by Michelle

IMG_8974.JPGFor the month of October I am joining thousands of others writers and bloggers and committing to write for 31 days. I haven’t written consistently for years. I compose drafts in my head and never write them. I start posts, only to save them for later, where they accumulate in my draft box like a stack of old photos. I am well aware that some seasons of the writing life are for soaking up, gathering ideas and paying attention. But sometimes there is wisdom in just starting, in putting words on the page, fingers to the keys and practicing the discipline of showing up every day and just doing it.

If you’re new here you may not yet know how much I like questions. I like questions that challenge me, like when Andy Stanley asked, “What does Love Require of me?.” I ask a lot questions about raising a bicultural and bilingual daughter like, “Will she feel more Guatemalan? or American?” I’ve written about what I learned in my 20’s and that being able to ask good questions and listen to how someone responds are of equally importance.

For the next31 days I am going to write 31 questions that I think all cross-cultures workers should ask themselves and those they work with. If you’re reading this and thinking, what on earth is a “cross-cultural worker?” I would say it is anyone who specifically devotes part of their life working with a group of people or culture different from the one they most closely identify with. That encompass expats, missionaries, non-profit leaders who live internationally, and locally. But I would also like to extend the definition to include educators, pastors, nurses, administrators, business owners and really anyone who has consistent interaction with people from a culture different from their own. Be it at the gym, in the classroom, around the board room, or in the living room. For me, the majority of my cross-cultural learning has taken place in Guatemala. And as a result, the majority of my writing will stem from my experience as a cross-cultural worker here, but I will also draw on experiences and questions from being a teacher, a wife and mom.

My hope is that the questions I will ask and discuss will apply across generational, socioeconomic and ethnic lines. My hope is that teachers, working with students from a minority (or majority) culture can also relate. And that youth pastors working with teenagers who are almost an entirely different culture altogether will also be able to relate. I hope that parents trying to connect to their kids, will be able to relate. I even think many of the questions also apply to marriages, because even when both spouses come from the same “culture” we all know that people have very unique family cultures.

Questions have the potential to help us get to know someone else better by first helping us know ourselves.

So, join me for the next 31 days to find out what are the 31 questions worth asking.

You can check back to this page and I will list the questions by day. Or you can sign-up on my blog under the “email option” in the righthand column so you get an email delivered to your inbox with each new post.

Look forward to writing and discussing this with all of you.

Here’s to 31 days,



Check back here for links to each day:

Day 1: Do you use person first language? 

Dat 2: How do you define poverty?

Day 3: