I have not experienced a great deal of severe material poverty but of course I have seen poverty both in England and elsewhere. The most extreme I have witnessed was probably on the trip I took to see my friend who was living in Tanzania, East Africa. You couldn't fail to confront the extreme conditions those people face every day -it was everywhere- often in direct contrast to the hotels and wealthy hot spots next door to it or on the other side of the street. The people touched my heart - in particular the children. I find they are often with me, they appear in my mind at the oddest moments or times. I see them and am aware of them whenever I consider the theory of poverty. The smell of urine in the orphanage, the wet tears on their cheeks, their way of clinging and holding on to any part of you they could clutch - it wipes away the theory with a sharp stab. I think of their strength, their love, their beauty and most of all I think of their pain.
I think many of us have an idea that the poor should somehow be naturally virtuous, that they should be good because they are poor. Why? when each of them is a person just the same as the rest of us with more reason than most to feel angry, hurt and cheated. Their poverty is not chosen it is enforced. Yet these are the people Christ chooses to walk with. One of my favourite writers is Elizabeth Gaskell - she lived in mid-Victorian England and was the daughter of a clergy man and later married a Vicar. She moved to the north of England, to the very centre of industrial poverty - here she worked among, and wrote about England's poorest yet most essential workers in a society which believed that poverty was really the fault of the poor themselves. In the 1840's there was a famine in the north and whole families starved to death. Elizabeth Gaskell was brave enough to write from the perspective of the poor and I wanted to share a little of her wisdom - since she has been a great teacher to me. I hope you will find some of the following quotations interesting- Elizabeth Gaskell saw the value of life where others failed to and there is so much wisdom in the writing of this ordinary Christian wife and mother:
From the novel Mary Barton
John Barton, a good man who suffers in poverty, tries to make known the cause of the poor in London but is shunned. He tells his daughter: