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When Poverty Is The Fuse

Kenyans gather to view the destruction caused by a broken fuel pipe in a Nairobi slum. Photo: Khalil Senois/Associated PressThe news reports made my stomach churn. Monday morning, a fire fed by a broken gasoline pipeline ripped through a slum in eastern Nairobi, the type of place where homes are cobbled together out of metal sheets and trash.

(While it is the type of place One Child Matters ministers to, we do not have any projects nearby. Our next closest project is on the other side of Nairobi, and our staff report that they are horrified, but safe.)

I wish I wasn’t this way, but I’m the type of person who imagines things to the tiniest detail. The horror and fear, the cries of the victims and the terrible smell as the slum burned…I try to limit my exposure to news stories for this reason, and instead try to focus my worry and distress into prayers.

But because we have projects in Kenya, I started reading the stories, poring over the photos of weeping, mourning parents searching for their children or whatever remained of their homes. One article shocked me with its insight. After describing the living conditions in the slum, the journalist focused on why people were trying to collect the gasoline pouring out of the broken pipe:

The whole slum seemed to spring into action, with men, women and children grabbing buckets, oil tins, battered yellow jerrycans – anything to carry the leaking fuel. Even minibuses raced in from miles away, looking for free gas, a small godsend in a place where most people are jobless and live in rusty metal shacks that rent for $25 a month.

And then a little later came the sentence that haunted me: “While the burning garbage may have lighted this fire, poverty seemed to be the real fuse.”

Poverty… a fuse leading to inexplicable tragedy.

And yet, after that statement wound its way through my head and my heart, I felt something else stir. Does that mean poverty is the fuse to the inevitable? Something that leads to the destruction of lives, hopes, and dreams... something essentially unstoppable?

Or can poverty be the fuse that leads to an explosion of action, of response?

If the Spirit of God surged through the believers in the early church like a rushing wind and appeared as tongues of flame that rested on each of them, how should we interpret what happened after the Holy Spirit made its presence known?

It’s a familiar passage (Acts 2:42-47) that details the start of the body of Christ:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

People weren’t living like this before – while Jesus walked the earth and performed His miracles, people took notice, but were lives changed at such a pace, in such powerful ways?

Because the Spirit of God dwelled within them, they were compelled to share and give and love in an utterly distinctive way. In the early church, the Spirit and character of God was the fuel, and the needs of others were the fuse that led to an explosive community of faith and of action.

This is the hope I cling to – that poverty need not end in relentless tragedy, but in kingdom, in the response God has hardwired into our hearts with His Spirit – to act, share, love, and live in a different way for the sake of others and for God’s glory.

I hope for all of us that poverty is indeed a fuse – not something to run from in fear of what it means or what could happen next, but instead a chance to act and respond. That is what we do as sponsors and as believers, giving with gladness, showing a different type of investment, pouring into people – into children – trusting that God’s presence will work through them to ignite the change we know is possible through Him. 

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