Monday, August 22, 2005

Who's Poor?

Yesterday I spent a particularly nice afternoon with a woman who I've known for many years--but have seen rarely, because she lives and works in a rural area of Mexico. JLA has been a linguist in Mexico for about 30 years, translating the New Testament into a language that had never been written down before. Ever.

Since the 1960s, she's been a linguist for the Comaltepec Chinanteco language of Mexico. First she and her colleague wrote down the language, then they taught people to read their never-before-written language, then they translated the books of the New Testament. Oh, and she first, first had to learn this tonal language.

While we were eating lunch, JLA said she doesn't like those ads for charitable organizations that have TV and print ads showing bedraggled kids, houses with dirt floors, people cooking over fires, etc. Referring to Mark 14:7 (i.e., "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want," said Jesus. "But you will not always have me."), she pointed out that just because someone's home has a dirt floor, or they have only one change of clothes, doesn't mean they're poor.

So I asked what denotes a "poor" person where she lives and works. She had to think about it for a few minutes. Finally, she said, "Probably the width of the wood they use for cooking." The poor in that area, she explained, are more likely to use sticks rather than little logs for cooking fires.