Poverty

Time to Come to Washington

The son of a Kenyan student and a woman from Kansas has become president. I honestly never thought this possible. I thought this day would never come in our lifetime, but it did. I’m still pinching myself.

On Jan. 20, as President Barack Obama delivered his inaugural address, it seemed that the more I listened, the better it got. Here is a leader who wants us to face how serious our situation really is, I thought. Here is a leader who extends an invitation to us to make the hard choice to have hope, which has always been the strength of this nation when facing difficult times. And here is a leader who says this isn’t really about him, but about us and what we decide to do together. Here is a leader who calls for a “new era of responsibility.”

The new president also pledged that the poor of the world would not be abandoned anymore. “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds,” Obama said, extending America’s promise to all, including those at the bottom of the economy.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2009
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With Eyes to See

His name was Richard, the same as mine. I sat inside his meager thatch hut, listening to his story, told through the tears of an orphan whose parents had died of AIDS. At 13, Richard was trying to raise his two younger brothers by himself in this small shack with no running water, electricity, or even beds to sleep in. There were no adults in their lives—no one to care for them, feed them, love them, or teach them how to become men. There was no one to hug them, either, or to tuck them in at night. Other than his siblings, Richard was alone, as no child should be. I try to picture my own children abandoned in this kind of deprivation, fending for themselves without parents to protect them, and I cannot.

I didn’t want to be there. I wasn’t supposed to be there, so far out of my comfort zone—not in that place where orphaned children live by themselves in their agony. There, poverty, disease, and squalor had eyes and faces that stared back, and I had to see and smell and touch the pain of the poor. That particular district, Rakai, is known to be ground zero for the Ugandan AIDS pandemic. There the deadly virus has stalked its victims in the dark for decades. Sweat trickled down my face as I sat awkwardly with Richard and his brothers while a film crew captured every tear—mine and theirs.

I much preferred living in my bubble, the one that, until that moment, had safely contained my life, family, and career. It kept difficult things like this out, insulating me from anything too raw or upsetting. When such things intruded, as they rarely did, a channel could be changed, a newspaper page turned, or a check written to keep the poor at a safe distance. But not in Rakai. There “such things” had faces and names—even my name, Richard.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2009
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