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Poverty Begins Here

During the days leading up to Christmas, I kept feeling that I was in Bethlehem. Driving out one country road, I saw the fat sheep grazing next to the fence along the road. Coming down into the valley, I could see the cows and the goats. Waking up on Christmas morning, I looked at the donkeys in the stable across the street. Indeed, it couldn’t look more like what I imagined Bethlehem looked like. But what did it feel like, to be turned away from shelter, to be in need? Surely that kind of inhospitality didn’t exist here. Or did it?

I was far out in the countryside, among the farms covered with iridescent green from the winter rains, delivering Christmas meals to needy families. I drove past the third and final stop three times before venturing up the long dirt road. The entrance by the roadside had no number, just the remnants of two mosaic pillars. However, one number was faintly there, making it a likely suspect for the house I was looking for. There were no other houses anywhere nearby. The mailbox had no address either; its only writing was a faintly whited-over obscenity. As I drove up onto the farm, the compound expanded into more detail, with at least three very disheveled looking trailers on the left. There was no doubt in my mind that people inhabited them, but I wasn’t ready to knock there. I headed to the top where there was a comparatively well-kept house. Surely not the recipient I was looking for, but perhaps they knew the people. If this was a working ranch, the family I was looking for would most likely be Hispanic ranch workers, while this larger house could be the ranch owner.

I knocked at the door of the large house and a woman emerged, while two men inside continued to sit with their beers, staring out at me. I inquired about the family I was searching for, and the woman hesitated at first, as if the name didn’t ring a bell. I repeated it, and then she said, with a doubt in her voice, that the person lived over there, pointing directly opposite her house. I thanked her and moved my car to the other side of the driveway, totally dumbfounded that people could live on the same ranch, at such close quarters and not even know each others names.

I knocked at the door that was pointed out to me, a door into a rather falling-apart house, with a rag as a welcome mat. A Latino woman and her 4-year-old daughter answered the door. She was delighted, and welcomed me, invited me in, thanked me, and had her little one repeat everything she said to me in English. First things first… the children must learn the language of this country. I delivered the abundant food offering, wished them “Feliz Navidad” and drove off.

That last visit said it all. I had been wondering how there could be poverty in this rich land I live in. Here were hundred and thousands of acres of farmable land, turned over to grazing cattle and sheep, while people who worked it had no food, not even a garden. The grazing animals.. cows, sheep, horses all had something to eat, and yet the neighboring humans, supposedly with more intelligence, had naught.

No room at the inn in Bethlehem has carried over the ages, to no food on the farm. It seemed to me the root cause lay in the distance between two families, living right next door to each other. The ranch owners dining well, their kids playing with their shiny new bikes in the driveway, seemed out of touch with the hungry family who shared the land. That distance will have to be bridged before there is ever a solution to the poverty we see. That distance is the true poverty…poverty of spirit.

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