Hiding Poverty

1-DSCN1070I’m still getting rested up from the great trip to Uganda. Our team worked with LivingStone International University while in Mbale. We also visited the main facility of the Child Restoration Outreach (CRO), a world-renown Christian NGO that ministers to street children in Mbale and other cities. This picture shows two of our team members, Brooke Anderson and Mike Cahill, trying to make balloon animals for these CRO children in their compound. They were only able to do this for a short time, because the children mobbed them in a way that was nearly out of control. You might notice that one of the taller boys is wearing long pants and a baggy tan/white jacket with long sleeves. This seems strange in the hot African weather, but I think this was to hide the obvious skin symptoms of his AIDS condition. He was barefoot, and I saw the tell-tale lesions on his feet. Very sad.

Why do we dress the way we do? This question confronted me several times while in Uganda. At lunch, a Ugandan student asked me a question concerning people in American, something that puzzled him. A paraphrase of his question was, “Why do rich people in America dress like such slobs?” It was hard to answer. I guess they do this because they can. They can do whatever they want. There is no dress code for the rich in America.

At another Q & A with Ugandan students, the issue of dress came up. One of our team members, Daniel Norton, mentioned that he appreciated how the Ugandan university students always dressed well. Daniel’s comments were well intended and perceptive, but did not grasp the entire picture. I had also noticed that they were nicely dressed, but that most of them wore the same clothes every day. They had managed to acquire one nice outfit, but did not have a closet full of them. When Daniel said this, the Ugandan students were surprised, and one of them offered a comment that provided tremendous insight for me, “We dress to hide our poverty.”

The poor boy with AIDS dressed to hide his condition. The poor university students dressed to give the appearance of affluence. The rich celebrities in America wear jeans with holes and don’t wash their hair. What a contrast!

When Princess Diana was alive, every public appearance was observed and scrutinized by the relentless British press. It was said that she never wore the same dress in public more than once. Some of her dresses were donated to charities, so I don’t want to label her as selfish or ostentatious. But she was not hiding poverty. She was flaunting wealth.

James 2:1My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

I’m not sure I understand all of this, but in the end I don’t think we can hide poverty, as much as we might want to do so. In a rich country like America, we still see poverty. In a poorer country like Uganda, it is more evident. May we just be sure we judge people by their hearts, not their clothes.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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