Poverty Does Not Surrender

It was a calm Friday morning at the PathLight office in Belize – well, as calm as could be expected when dozens of students were coming by to pick up their textbooks. Orderly and focused, the students were full of smiles as the PathLight mentors guided them through the process. I was with my wife D’Aun and a group of friends who joined us so they could see what PathLight was doing to help students like these.

Dennis Thomas, PathLight’s Belize Field Director, gathered my friends into a private room to share a few thoughts. He told us about the challenges a teenager faces when growing up in this developing country, and how the PathLight mentors are the first and often only resource to help during these struggles. We heard about families without food to eat, children walking over an hour to catch a bus so they could get to school, predators taking advantage of the unprotected, and all the other assorted hassles of growing up in poverty.

Then Dennis said something that encapsulated the whole frustrating situation in one simple sentence:

“Poverty does not surrender.”

The room went still and quieted as the power of those words sank in. The muffled voices of mentors and students could be heard in the adjacent room as the air conditioner hummed outside the window. A few of us stared at Dennis, waiting for him to continue, but he paused to make sure everybody got the point.

“Poverty does not surrender.”

Every student in the PathLight Sponsorship+ program has a different experience, but the pattern is clear: two steps forward, one step back…two steps forward, two steps back…one step forward...pause…repeat.

“Poverty does not surrender.”

The unrelenting grasp of poverty holds on to these students. Progress is slow. A student with excellent academic scores is forced into taking a day job to support his family. Another is told she must stay home to watch her younger siblings. One is robbed and beaten on the long walk to the bus stop, while another cries in the arms of a mentor because she hasn’t had a good meal in days. The PathLight team in Belize works incredibly hard to serve these students and their families. But each small win is often followed by a setback.

“Poverty does not surrender.”

Little did we know that calm Friday morning, Hurricane Earl would arrive just four days later. Homes would be destroyed, valuables lost, floodwaters would devastate crops. Some would be left with nearly nothing, back to square one.

“Poverty does not surrender.”

And yet somehow, mysteriously, implausibly, hope survives. It’s remarkable, really. The passage in Romans about “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” comes alive at a time like this.

You see the hope in our mentors – some of who lost much during the storm – and you see hope in the students. You see hope in the teachers, the communities, and the leaders who step forward during times of trial. You see the hope in a new metal roof, a fresh dry set of bedding, the replacement of an old stove, and a 50 lb. bag of seed ready to be planted.

Poverty may never surrender, but neither will the people of PathLight. Each step forward is celebrated. Each step back is met with renewed determination.

Poverty may never surrender, but neither will the people who support PathLight. One gift at a time, one rejection of poverty in every act of generosity.

Poverty may never surrender, but then neither does God. Always present, always compassionate, always strong.

It’s true, poverty will not surrender. But poverty can be beaten. Two steps forward, one step back…repeat.