How can I identify with the poor? Middle-class attempts to understand poverty often fail. I have a car outside and can pay our bills. Hot water is available everyday and money can be saved. The poverty workshop will soon be over and I can high five other attendees, telling them how awesome they are. Then we can all go out to eat afterwards. It's almost funny, except it's not.
Our Attempt One time my family and I tried our own 3-month poverty simulation. Books like K.P. Yohannan's Revolution in World Missions and Ruby Payne's Bridges Out of Poverty served as our inspiration. We began asking ourselves what we knew of poverty and how we could begin to relate. One result of those discussions was a self-imposed experiment. We called it: Project Derelict Rule #1 - Do Not Talk about Project Derelict during Project Derelict
#2 - No Electricity
I remember the day we taped the light switches. We went without hot water, lights, technology and the heater. Without electricity, our bedtime became a peaceful, natural progression. And like the setting sun, our minds slowly drifted down into the relaxed atmosphere of night.
Project Derelict offered us the chance to more frequently read good books. It became a routine and our first choice, The Good Earth, will always be one of my favorites.
#3 - Walk/Ride the Bus This proved to be challenging because we didn't live close to many useful stores. I found the bus system to be highly difficult to manage. I never did master the technique of planning a meeting with the bus schedule in mind. It always ended 5 minutes too late for me to catch the returning bus. Once, I had to wait for two hours for the next driver. Another time, when I decided to walk, I inefficiently planned for how heavy my groceries would be on the return trip.
#4 - Wear Oldest Clothes
We chose our 2 oldest shirts, 1 pair of jeans, 1 jacket (it was winter) and 1 pair of shoes. Right away, I became keenly aware of my limited wardrobe and felt too visible. One of my shirts was neon yellow and sported a little green frog on it with a speech bubble that said, "'sup." I couldn't hide. My neon torso alerted everyone to my presence and to my lack of style. Over time, I grew less concerned with my appearance, but it bothered me for a long time.
#5 - Don't Use Furniture
As we gathered all the furniture, squeezing it into the back bedroom, we were surprised at how little we actually needed. Our bedroom became a storage closet and we slept on the living room floor. Guests never inquired as to why we, all of a sudden, didn't have a couch for them to sit on. It simply was. By day we rolled up our blankets (no pillows) and by night we rolled them out. Several weeks into the project, a roach crawled across my face in the middle of the night. That was my low point.
All in all, it changed our perspective on needs versus wants. Having each other is enough and possessions are nice, but they cannot become our source of joy and peace.
Intangibles. like love, are what matters most to us and limiting our stuff helped us realize what truly has value. In short, it helped shape our worldview.
So how did Project Derelict help us relate to the poor? Well, we already knew that being middle-class isn't "better" than low or high class. But, it's easy to allow our lifestyle to separate us from the poor, even unintentionally. It's an imaginary line created by men that doesn't really change who we are on the inside. These 3 months took us out of "normal" and gave us pause to pray for and consider our inability to truly relate to the poor. What Now? I'm getting rid of the Internet in our house! Don't feel badly for me; I love a good challenge. And I'm honestly embarrassed to say that getting rid of the Internet will feel like a challenge. Who's with me on that?!
Since our last project, we've added 5 school-aged children and smart phones have been invented. Because of that, we are going deeper into "doing without." It doesn't feel like a sacrifice; it's an opportunity. This challenge will undoubtedly bear relational fruit that we're excited about!