Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What I Learned in Kokomo

I spent three days last week with some teens from my church on a mission in Kokomo, Indiana. We were participating in programs sponsored by Kokomo Urban Outreach. (Check out the links in the left margin of this page.) There was a lot to do, a lot to learn, and a lot to absorb but it was an outstanding experience.

Our time in Kokomo was awesome. Just this morning I met with a part of our team and some other members of our youth group. It was an informal de-briefing session. The comments were overwhelmingly positive. The things that I hear over and over again are that the prayer walk was a new and moving experience, the Poverty Simulation Game was great fun and illustrated poverty in unexpected ways, and the time with neighborhood residents was very beneficial. The adults in our group were very impressed by the volunteers and especially the care that we received. We were comfortable, well-fed and cared for at every turn.

Most significant from our perspective was the change in outlook that many of the teens have had about poverty. They are now considering those who live in poverty in a completely new way. When before "poor people" were always far away and impersonal, now they have faces, names and personalities. Many of our teens have thought of poverty as an unfortunate choice that some people make, now they see that it is a little more complicated than that.

There were some things that I (and I think our whole group) learned during this experience.
  • When you think you know everything, that is a sure sign that you do not. I started the experience with very few expectations, but I was sure that I would not be surprised. I was wrong. A couple of examples: In poverty, toilet paper is a luxury item. The systems established to assist those in poverty often serve only to humiliate and de-moralize.
  • Young people are willing to work, and work hard, for a good cause. I did not see laziness or an attitude of trying to avoid labor among our group. They all worked hard and with a good spirit.
  • Poverty is not really a choice. The perception, held by many in the middle class, that people could get out of poverty if they tried, is almost always untrue. Poverty is a system that keeps most from escaping. Health issues, mental illness, government bureaucracy and poverty itself conspire to hold onto poor people.
  • There are enough needs that everyone can make a contribution. Each person can participate in assisting those in poverty.
  • Education is the key to improving life.
I am ready to return to Kokomo. It was a great time and will get on my calendar on a regular basis. Not only that, but I believe that my daily life will change as I see poverty in a new way.

1 comment:

THAT GIRL said...

That is awesome! I'd love to help next time you are in town!!!