On the first day of the business development course for the girls, I asked the girls a simple question: “What are your goals and dreams for life?” If I asked a 16 year old girl in the U.S. this same question, she might spurt off a series of responses such as “I want to be a writer, a missionary, a mother and a business owner…oh and a certified masseuse!” (Okay, so that was just me. I just watched a video recently where I gave this response. Don’t laugh. I still want to be a masseuse one day.) The point is that many of us have been told since we were little that we could be anything we want to be. Many of the girls here, on the other hand, have grown up seeing the other women in their lives treated as inferior beings, not worthy of a proper education, working hard their whole lives and still struggling just to survive. In addition to that, their country and their lives have been ripped apart by the devastation of war and violence, leaving them with many bad memories and few opportunities for a productive future. So when I ask them about their dreams, it is no wonder that I was met with nervous giggles and blank faces.

I’m reading a book right now called When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, and one of the things it talks about is different types of poverty. When we, in the Western world, think of poverty, we usually think of material poverty, but we fail to recognize the many other types of poverty, such as poverty of being, that can be even worse than material poverty.

The author says: “A poverty of being is a major part of the brokenness that low-income people experience in their relationship with themselves. Instead of seeing themselves as being created in the image of God, low-income people often feel they are inferior to others. This can paralyze the poor from taking initiative from seizing opportunities to improve their situation, thereby locking them into material poverty.”

I have seen this situation time and time again and it is the same whether in Wheeling, WV or Gulu, Uganda—low income people who fail to recognize opportunities because they lack the confidence to pursue them out of fear of failure. Their past experiences, current situations and everything (or everyone) they know tells them that this is true. It is sad to see, and no amount of money can save someone from that. Once the money goes away, the feeling (the poverty of being) remains.

On the other hand, those who are economically rich can suffer from poverty of being in the form of what is called the “god complex,” which the author describes as “a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority in which they believe that they have achieved their wealth through their own efforts and that they have been anointed to decide what is best for low-income people, whom they view as inferior to themselves.” Those who are reading this would be in the “economically rich” category (compared to the rest of the world) and you may think that you do not have this sense of superiority, but you are probably wrong. Few of us actually realize that we have these god-complexes, which is part of the problem. Satan works in subtle ways.

The book asks the question “Why do you want to help the poor?” This question is more difficult than you might initially think (at least it was for me). What are some possible responses—it is the right thing to do, God teaches us that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, or my usual response which is something along the lines of ‘to whom much is given, much is expected.’ While I do indeed feel this way, somewhere inside of me is also the desire to accomplish something worthwhile in my life, to use my knowledge and skills to “save” the poor. In this way, the author says that we are reducing poor people to objects to fulfill our own needs of accomplishment. Ouch. I have a very difficult time admitting this to myself let alone to others, but it is unfortunately real, and it is something that I must continue praying to overcome. Romans 7:21 says “when I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”

Whether volunteering at the local soup kitchen or doing a mission trip in Cambodia, it is important to always remember that  dignity is more important to the human spirit than wealth. I plan to act in a more participatory way, including the girls in decision making and asking them what it is they really want because after all, they are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves. The problem is that no one has ever asked them before.

I pray that even if the girls do not end up having the most profitable businesses in town, that they will at least walk away with the knowledge that they are made in God’s image and were given the gifts to fulfill the desires He has placed in their hearts. I want them to know that through Him, they have power and strength even beyond their own understanding. And at the end of the course when I ask the question “What are your dreams for life?” I hope that each of the girls can tell me her greatest aspirations with a smile on her face and the love of God and confidence in her heart.

The girls drew what their dream world would look like--healthy and educated kids, a nice home, God, transportation, lots of livestock and crops, peace.

Taking time to do some dreaming and journaling of my own under God's rainbow. (Photo taken my my hutmate Julia)