Blessed are the poor?

Here is another story from Wilma

I held the twisted arthritic hand whilst we all prayed. Her skin was soft and old and I reckoned she was about 75. Blanca was always first in church waiting for the service to start. “How come?” I asked, “do you live near?” “Oh, five meters away”, she laughed. She enjoyed my surprised expression. “Yes, I live in a tiny house here in the church grounds. I used to live with my son, but it just didn’t work out, so God provided this little house and I am so grateful”. Yesterday, we sat in the winter sunshine and I looked closer at the little house. With its grey panelling and maroon wooden frame raised upon stilts, and its three rickety steps to the front door it reminded me of something between a garden shed and an old fashioned gypsy caravan. “Do you have any water”, I asked. “No, I have to use the church bathroom, which isn’t convenient in the middle of the night if you aren’t well”. But there isn’t any water in there either I thought! “Is it very cold or do you have a heater?” I asked. “I do have a kerosene heater, but when it is windy the draft comes up through the gaps in the floor boards lifting the roof slightly”. I shivered at the thought. It reminded me of another chilly visit which I had recently made.

Liliana welcomed me with kisses on both cheeks and took me around to the back entrance of her solid little house. Wild barking greeted me but the dogs were safe behind a child gate in the ‘living room’. I say ‘living room’ but it was completely bare except for a fridge freezer and a TV on a stand angled in such a way that it could be seen from the dining room. When the dogs calmed down I could hear the Christian radio in the background, “I keep it on day and night” she explained, “it keeps away the powers of evil”. Liliana invited me to sit at the table while she bustled about closing the back door and making some tea. Instead I followed her to the ‘kitchen’ and found that the stove was in the bathroom which had no door! I was really quite confused.

Clasping the hot mug of tea with both hands I controlled my shivers while Liliana told me her story. She used to have a good job and she had been fixing up the house, I had noticed the ‘olde worlde’ windows and the smart polished wooden door, she also proudly pointed out the varnished wooden ceiling and the two Formica shelves, but after loosing her job she barely manages to live. There were only three packets of food on the shelves. She couldn’t pay the phone bill so the company eventually cut her off completely. She asked if I was cold, and trying not to lie nor offend her I held the cup closer and said I was okay.   “Don’t you have any kind of heat?” I asked. “I used to have an electric heater but I couldn’t pay the bill so the company came and took it away”. There was electricity though; best not to ask where it came from! “How do you keep warm,” I asked, “I go to bed early and the dogs lie at my feet, then I am really cosy”. “Never mind that” she said with a look of triumph in her dark deeply lined eyes, “today I worked”. Well!  And it was only Sunday past that she had asked me to pray that she would get work! She continued, “Adriana said that I could sell the bread that she bakes and that I could keep one quarter of the gains. It was very tiring carrying that heavy basket of bread, but I prayed and God strengthened me and I made it. And guess what, not one person refused to buy my bread! In three hours I made $7 (£1.50)”.   She read to me from the Bible which had been open on the table and we prayed together, I rather quietly, trying to get all the subjunctives right, and she with loud ‘amen’s’ and ‘gloria a Dios’.

It was 7’C outside, but she insisted on accompanying me to the taxi office as the area wasn’t safe. I huddled by the gas heater waiting for the taxi to come fantasying about a hot bath and my electric blanket.

So many times I have realised how privileged I am to have so much and to take it all for granted! But what a blessing to know Blanca and Liliana and be blessed by their fervent faith and devotion to God! Jesus said “Blessed are the poor”, not because they are poor, as poverty is in itself a terrible hardship, but blessed because they have learnt to depend on God and be grateful for everything. How would I manage if I had to live in such poverty?