Poverty in the 10/40 Window

poverty-1The poverty around the world, but especially in the 10/40 Window, is heart-breaking and gut-wrenching at best. I wrote the following words in my book Peeking through the 10/40 Window two years ago.

My first real peek into the poverty and pain in the 10/40 Window came during a three-week trip to Southeast Asia about five years ago. I can still remember my first thoughts upon arriving in Cambodia, traveling then to the countries of Laos, and Thailand, and seeing the poverty and the pain first-hand. It seems as if it were just yesterday. Taking my first peek into the 10/40 Window the memories are so vivid. I remember the tears shed as I witnessed what I could not understand and had no frame of reference, answer, or explanation. I remember thinking to myself, “It is so hard to imagine that people live this way in the 21st century!” My three-week trip was to cover three different countries in Southeast Asia. My first stop was Phnom Penh, Cambodia. … I got a real peek at poverty such as I had never experienced in the United States in over fifty years of living.

My very first visit was to comfort a mother who had just lost her son. We walked through about six inches of sewer water to get to the shack. The three of us sat on the floor since there was no furniture. The shack was much smaller than the average garage in America. Looking around I just could not believe someone lived like this. There was no indoor plumbing or restroom facility. Need I go any further? This woman’s 12 or 13-year-old son had fallen from a tree and landed on his head. He died immediately! Was he playing in the tree? No! He was picking fruit that he could sell to help support the family.

In just a matter of a few hours, peeking in the window here in Phnom Penh was shocking to say thepoverty-2 least. The only way to describe the scene was heart wrenching. I saw the poor, the beggars (including children), the small shacks where entire families lived, and the lack of what we in America would call the “bare essentials” such as running water, toilets, and showers or bathtubs. To be a part of the “sewer children” ministry and witness the unfathomable conditions these children had to live in day and night. To meet the  8 or 10-year-old boy who was selling peanuts on the street corner about a mile from his house at 7:00 p.m. on a Saturday evening in Phnom Penh to help support his family, and many more scenes too hard to even mention, all formed compassionate images in my mind.

Such is life in the part of the world we know as the 10/40 Window!

What was so difficult to comprehend was that while our brothers and sisters in Christ are struggling for survival in other parts of the world, we in America are basking in bounty. As one author noted:

By any measure we are the richest people ever to walk on the planet earth. Furthermore, at no time in history has there ever been greater economic disparity in the world than at the present. While the average American lives on more than $90.00 per day approximately one billion people live on less than one dollar per day. And 2.6 billion (40 percent of the world’s population) live on less than $2.00 per day!

poverty-4Another author, who was born and raised in India, tries to describe the great disparity that exists between America and much of the world by quoting another author.

Economist Robert Heilbroner describes the luxuries a typical American family would have to surrender if they lived among the billion hungry people the Two-Thirds World: We begin by invading the house of our imaginary American family to strip it of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, television sets, lamps. We will leave the family with a few old blankets, a kitchen table, a wooden chair. Along with the bureaus go the clothes. Each member of the family may keep in his wardrobe his oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. We will permit a pair of shoes for the head of the family, but none for the wife or children. We move to the kitchen. The appliances have already been taken out, so we turn to the cupboards…the box of matches may stay, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt. A few moldy potatoes, already in the garbage can, must be rescued, for they will provide much of tonight’s meal. We will leave a handful of onions and a dish of dried beans. All the rest we take away: the meat, the fresh vegetables, the canned goods, the crackers, the candy.

Now we have stripped the house: the bathroom has been dismantled, the running water shut off, the electric wires taken out. Next we take away the house. The family can move to the tool shed…communications must go next. No more newspapers, magazines, books-not that they are missed, since we must take away our family’s literacy as well. Instead, in our shantytown we will allow one radio…Now government services must go next. No more postmen, no more firemen. There is a school, but it is three miles away and consists of two classrooms…there are, of course, no hospitals or doctors nearby. The nearest clinic is ten miles away and is tended by a midwife. It can be reached by bicycle, provided the family has a bicycle, which is unlikely….

Finally, money. We will allow our family a cash hoard of five dollars. This will prevent our breadwinner from experiencing the tragedy of an Iranian peasant who went blind because he could not raise the $3.94 which he mistakenly thought he needed to receive admission to a hospital where he could have been cured.

This is an accurate description of the lifestyle and world from which I came. From the moment I poverty-5touched foot on American soil, I walked in an unbelieving daze. How can two so different economies coexist simultaneously on the earth?

How can we read these words and not be moved with concern and compassion? These are real people. These are people just like you and me. They may look different on the outside but they are people just like us.


“Put yourself in the place of every poor man and deal with him as you would God deal with you.” – John Wesley