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They Are Not “Out There”

Written by: Harris Murray

There is a phrase that helps put into perspective my own whining, especially when it is, in all honesty, quite petty.  “Nothing to wear,” is one of my complaints, even when a closet full of clothes faces me while I fuss.  “I just don’t want to eat what’s in my refrigerator,” is another.

Here’s the phrase, “It’s a first-world problem.”

I am blessed to live in riches – riches of love, freedom, choices, education, faith and meaningful relationships.  I have not been born into poverty, violence, lack of opportunity or hunger.  This is my life.  But within the confines of my first-world country, there are growing pockets of what we call “third-world problems,” and we ought never forget that we are to give from our blessings to those who suffer.

Instead, I find that from our perches of success and self-sufficiency, we often blame victims of such circumstances instead of answering the call to serve.  Sophie’s story may provide some idea of how children are victims of a true third-world life in the United States.

Sophie is now 17 years old.  Approaching the mark of adulthood, she is amazed that she is alive. For most of her life, Sophie has lived in poverty.  Where to sleep, what to eat, where to live were not options for her, for she was the victim of a family that could not provide. Her mother’s boyfriend was argumentative and helped to create an uncertain environment.  Sophie was often physically sick due to a poor (or no) diet and the other uncontrolled circumstances of her life.  Her opportunities for education floundered under constant change.

Eventually, she moved in with her biological father, but he was abusive and often beat her to a pulp. No child should have to live that way, but in this first-world country, thousands, even hundreds of thousands, do.  In this self-glorified first-world country, these children live a third-world life, where danger lurks around every corner.

Sophie eventually found a home at Thornwell, a diverse ministry that serves South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.  Children and families have access to resources that help children heal and surround them with caring, giving and encouraging adults who can help them recover from the dire conditions of their lives.

She learned to be part of a family unit.

At Thornwell, children live in family settings; Sophie has seven “siblings” in her home, where she is learning to be part of a family unit from family teachers who equip children to socialize, embrace opportunities and receive love and affirmation as they face the deleterious effects of third-world upbringings.

“If I had not come to Thornwell, I would be dead.” This is no melodramatic teenage angst. It is Sophie’s truth.  Today, she continues on her journey, for it will take years to reconcile her mistreatment and authentic third-world problems.  She has improved in education, thanks in large part to an educator who has refused to let her give up; his gentle nudges and affirming confidence in her abilities are moving her forward, helping her gain confidence.

“I am grateful to be alive,” says Sophie. “Only I can determine my future.” Though the past will be a shadow for much of her life, I believe Sophie will work hard to achieve her goal of a college degree that will enable her to help others like her.

The next time you tend to focus too much on your “first-world problems,” remember that third-world problems aren’t “out there.” They are a raging presence in your own community.  How will you use your first-world resources to address these third-world issues?

Reprinted with the expressed written permission of the author.

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