Commentary: United Methodist pastor sees reality of poverty
July 29, 2004
The Rev. Chip Hale, from Spanish Fort, Ala., was part of a mission team to Quito, Ecuador.
By the Rev. Chip Hale*
recently had the opportunity to travel to Ecuador on a church-sponsored
mission trip. One morning, I sat atop a new day-care building
overlooking the great poverty in a section of Quito, Ecuador.
that place, I saw a collage of dirt roads, pigs and cows walking about
eating what they could, and houses built in patchwork designs with rocks
and tires on the roof to keep the tin from blowing off. There were open
sewers that ran onto the dirt roads and very few automobiles.
were the sights, the smells, and the reality of poverty. At that
unforgettable moment, my friend, Dewey English, said: “For most of the
world this poverty is reality. Our life is the fantasy.”
was right. You see, I live on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, Ala.,
and my family has a wonderful life filled with nice things. We eat three
nutritious meals a day, we have more clothes than we know what to do
with and our roof is secure and dry. My children are educated and we
have enough money for some of the “extras” that please us.
I never realized until last week, seeing that abject poverty, how very rich I am. It
is staggering to learn that 70 percent of the world cannot read, and a
great portion of the world’s population does not have enough to eat each
creates differences in values. Our mission was to help to construct a
day-care center in the capital city of Ecuador. One day, we were
applying first concrete or stucco, sealing the wall and, finally,
painting over it. Gloria Vander Noot from Gulf Shores (Ala.) United
Methodist Church was handing us the needed materials so we could have
our hands free to apply the stucco. Beneath us was a small potato plant
that an Ecuadorian grandmother had planted. She was intent on us not
stuccoing it along with the wall.
grandmother stood there with her hoe in hand, watching for us to drop a
single bit of stucco on her plant, and she railed against us in Spanish
the whole time. I told Gloria that if we accidentally dropped stucco on
the grandmother’s plant, she would have to haul us up quickly. I was
afraid of what the grandmother would do with her hoe. It was the only
time the entire trip I was glad I did not understand Spanish.
the potato plant remained unharmed, but this little picture illustrates
the clash of values. I cannot tell you how many potatoes are prepared
in my home and not eaten, or how much food is forgotten in the
refrigerator only to be discarded without a thought. In our culture, one
potato is of little importance. In a world of poverty, it is of great
The Rev. Chip Hale greets children during a mission trip to Ecuador.
then there are the people. Many of their personal stories will break
your heart. Conchita has three children, ages 4, 3 and 15 months. Her
husband died at 28 from acute alcoholism, so she must work 10 hours a
day to support her children. She leaves home before daylight and locks
her children in their two-room house. She tries to prepare something for
them to eat while she is gone; there is no one to check on them
throughout the day.
is a 3-year-old with big, brown eyes. He is fortunate to be in a
day-care center. His father is in prison and his mother is an alcoholic.
He and his sister walk unattended to the center every day. I smiled as I
helped him color a fish within the lines and all my teeth showed. He
looked up at my face, tried to imitate my smile and hugged me.
the various day-care centers we visited, they asked me to put my hands
on each of the children’s heads and pray a prayer of blessings. They say
every mission trip you go on, you meet at least one child who will
always occupy a corner of your heart. Michael will always be in mine. His life is hard, but it is so much better than the lives of Conchita and her children.
day-care building is now complete. Soon it will open its doors for 160
children, and it is my hope to be a part of building another day care in
a rural section of Ecuador. Because of our efforts, some children will
have a better life, and tomorrow will not be the same for these
families. Nor will life ever be the same for me.
*The Rev. Chip Hale is pastor of Spanish Fort United Methodist Church, Spanish Fort, Ala.
News media contact: Linda Bloom (646)369-3759 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.