What Hope Looks Like

I’m not sure what I was expecting when visiting my first mud hut in the middle of Africa, but this was not it. I wasn’t expecting hope.

Walk to House

“Is this where you live?” Wess asks the little girl as we march up the dirt path to her home.

Otherwise stoic, her attitude brightens a little as we reach the top of the hill and are greeted by her parents — at least, we thought they were her parents.

Sam, the man of the house, is quick to correct this misunderstanding. Nine year-old Kevin is his sister-in-law. He and his wife, Christine, took her in after the mother disappeared. She suffers from mental illness and has the unfortunate habit of abandoning her children.

Sam and Christine have decided to raise Kevin as their own. And when you ask them about this or praise their kindness, they get embarrassed. But ask them about this little girl and their hopes for her future, and their eyes shine.

Hope comes in unexpected places

I am surprised by what I see here.

Three sturdy mud huts with thatched roofs make up the family’s home: one a kitchen, and the other two a couple of bedrooms. As we tour the premises, I notice each building is well kept, the floors neatly swept and things put away where they belong.

Africa hut

There is a familiar order here, a pattern that feels like home.

The place is modest, but you can tell they take great pride in what they have. Despite my expectations, I don’t feel sorry for them. They don’t need my pity; they have something better.

Life is tough here, there’s no question about it. This past year, the couple lost a twin baby boys, a wound they are still healing from. Their son, Augustine, is deaf, and they don’t have access to opportunitites that would make life easier.

But there is hope in this place, I can feel it.

I ask what the family does for fun, and the translator stares at me, looking confused until I repeat myself. And then Sam answers the question:

We do everything together. And to us, it is fun.

His dream is to someday build a house and get more land to farm. He already has several crops and runs a storefront by the road, but the opportunity to do more for his family is what spurs him on.

It’s this belief in what could be that fuels him.

Poverty is a mindset

I have seen poverty. I have been to slums and stared despair in the face. I have encountered inescapable despondency. This is not it. This is something different. Something redemptive.

Poverty, as I understand it, is more than your economic situation or a lack of resources. It’s a mindset.

That feeling of utter helplessness, of being stuck in a situation from which you cannot escape — that’s what it means to be poor.

There are people in this world who lack basic necessities, who need legitimate help, but that in itself is not poverty. Poverty is an attitude that crushes your spirit.

And as I sit down with this family, I do not see poverty. I see possibility.

When we come into Kevin’s room, she is still guarded but trusting enough to show off her dress collection. She proudly points out her favorite one, which her sister tells us was provided by a child sponsor from Compassion.

Christine tells us how the sponsor also provided gifts that have allowed the family to buy some goats, pay for school, and meet other needs. Which, she admits, they could not have managed on their own.

Such relief is financial in one respect, but without the family’s faith, their belief that things can get better, the gift would be short lived.

I’m beginning to understand that poverty isn’t defeated with wealth; it’s overcome by hope. [Tweet that]

Poverty quote

The power of possibility

As we get ready to leave, Wess looks at Kevin, who hasn’t smiled once the whole visit, and then turns to the couple to say:

Sadness can destroy a child’s spirit.

If you’ve ever been wounded, you know how tragedy robs a person of her innocence, how it can deprive you of your expectancy of good things. And the scars of childhood take the longest to heal.

It would be easy to look at Kevin’s situation and see despair, but you wouldn’t be looking closely. You might miss the fact that she no longer prefers to eat garbage over table food or that she’s writing and socializing now, even singing and dancing, when two months before she could barely write.

She can still be hostile and difficult, but she is also learning to play with others. And behind her aggression is a deeper story: there’s still more healing to come.

Although there is deep pain, suffering that cannot be cured by platitudes, there is also possibility. And that doesn’t look like poverty to me. That looks like hope.

Before we go, Kevin tells us what her dream is: to become a teacher so she can help children just like her. And I recall something someone said over dinner last night:

“When you help the poor, they always find a way to help others in poverty.”

The gift of hope

Today, I saw the power of what a simple gift can do and how hope comes in little, unexpected bundles of action.

Kevin’s life, and her family, is being transformed — not in great, big Hollywood ways that we sometimes expect, but quietly and slowly as most true change occurs.

And why is this happening? Because someone halfway around the world decided that she mattered. That hope was a possibility for her, too. And this person took action.

Kevin Family with Jeff

Today, I saw what happens when kind people do brave things, and I want to be a part of that. Maybe you do, too. I don’t know what that looks like exactly, but it probably begins with realigning our definitions of wealth and poverty.

And if you’ve been stirred, as I have, to take further action here are a few more things you can do:

What’s an example of a poverty mindset in your own life? How did the power of possibility change that for you? Share in the comments.

Photos by Mike Varel.


118 thoughts on “What Hope Looks Like

  1. Delightful to read your firsthand story, Jeff. The power of possibility and hope! Yes! Thanks so much for letting us in on the trip. All the best to you and your group.

  2. I love this! When our sponsor child sends us pictures of what his family buys with our extra gifts, it melts my heart. HOPE is the key word. Thanks for being the eyes into it for us on your trip.

  3. So much to think about here, Jeff. You tackle the hard questions with curiosity and respect. Appreciate seeing the day through your eyes.

  4. Great account, thank you. As I read through it, I thought of a corollary statement:

    “Sadness can destroy a man’s spirit as well.” – We all need hope.

  5. Thank you for sharing this story Jeff. So often poverty is only mentioned in it’s monetary terms. A mental attitude of hope can make all the difference in someone’s daily life. I’m truly looking forward to hearing more from you as you’re traveling with Compassion.

  6. Thank you for going and thank you for sharing with us back here. Praying for you and the gang all this week.

  7. Nice blog – thanks for providing such unfiltered glimpses into the the trip & the amazing work God is doing on both sides of the ocean!

  8. What a fantastic post, Jeff. Hope is such a powerful force. I have had the opportunity to visit Uganda twice and have had similar experiences with some amazing people. If you have the opportunity to visit the Compassion center in Kasangati, outside Kampala, please extend my greetings to Pastor Stephen and the staff there. Our church has a number of sponsored children there. May God continue to guide your steps!

  9. “We do everything together. And to us, it is fun.”

    But what would we do with our smart phones then?



  10. It is truly amazing on trips like the one you are taking, that we often receive more than we give. I see this everyday with the people I work with in Asia. It is amazing.

  11. Jeff, When I signed up for a course in writing last week, I didn’t expect this. You melt my heart with words. But then I realised it is because you have an amazing soul. These are amazing words. In the era of Disneys, we have forgotten that spending time with our families is what fun is.

    I will be praying for you Jeff. God bless.

  12. My husband and I have been to Uganda twice. The first time, one person we were traveling with could not understand how the people could be so full of joy. All he could see was poverty. He completely did not get that hope, joy and love are not tangible and could not be achieved with wealth…. But this hope (and joy and love) that they are so abundant in is much greater than what most people experience in the U.S. We are consumers… We equate most happiness with possessions. But that is definitely not what brings the most joy….
    We also sponsor a Compassion child. It’s a small way of making a difference in the life of another human being… and from there it is a ripple effect….
    Thanks for the great post!

    1. I experienced a similar joy, gratitude and strong community ties in Haiti. I was overcome with a sense of how my own home community lacked this deeper connection.

      When a group truly needs each other for basic needs, there is more appreciation and more joy. Our material wealth is a distraction. And as you say, Cherie, our consumerism tends to consume us.

      Don’t get me wrong. The solution is not for us to become poor or to suffer from lack of resources as those who live in developing countries. We must become more rich in our appreciation and love of each other and our lives.

      Our new Compassion child lives in Ecuador. I hope to meet him someday.

      Jeff, thanks for reminding us of the deeper channels.

    2. Cherie, I visited with many sponsored children today in Uganda. I can tell you: it is anything but SMALL. What you are doing is bigger than you realize. Keep giving hope. It matters so very much.

  13. Beautiful words, and powerful message, Jeff. Precious Kevin. I will be praying for her sweet heart. I can’t wait to keep reading.

  14. Really enjoyed the post and for the invitation to “ride along”! My poverty mindset of “I CAN’T or I CAN”T AFFORD” was limiting and removing it (or having it removed a few years ago) allowed the possible to overshadow what I perceived as impossible. !

  15. My favorite part is this…

    Jeff: I ask what the family does for fun, and the translator stares at me, looking confused until I repeat myself. And then Sam answers the question: We do everything together. And to us, it is fun.


  16. Great post Jeff! “We do everything together. And to us that is fun.” Broke my heart–that is what loving families are supposed to do. We can certainly learn from their loving hearts!

    Thank you for posting this beautiful experience!

  17. Thanks, Jeff, for highlighting Sam, his family and Kevin’s dream of becoming a teacher…Sam’s definition of “fun” resonated with me and made me smile.

  18. I have to say, Jeff, I think this is the most thought-provoking post of yours that I’ve ever read – and that’s saying something. I’m intrigued by your definition of poverty and I’m definitely going to have to spend some time pondering it.

  19. Following and reading. Thanks for sharing. My word for 2014 is HOPE. I loved this post. Praying for kevin and her family.

  20. Thank you Jeff.
    Really hope is a commodity against poverty. I grew up in the same dusty villages of South Africa. Today people don`t believe me when I say I only saw a television for the first time in 1997. I was 13 years old then. I am inspired by this post. Keep on and God bless.

  21. Hope is the balm that heals hearts, builds communities and inspires love. For without hope, there would never be any innovation. Hope oils the cogs of sustainable action.

  22. Wow, you are quick to see the real Africa Jeff. I used to get frustrated by visiting ‘dignitaries’ from the West when I worked with CARE, because they would get all upset about kids having no shoes etc, i.e. totally missing the real important issues like health and education.
    You are right about hope, we have a lot to learn from our African friends as they face life together, focusing on each other and surviving day by day. I always found that a smile was never far away even among those people who you know have endured far more than their share of grief. I’m so happy that you’re experiencing Uganda I can’t tell you, I so miss my years there!

  23. When i subscribed to your blog last year i didn’t know that someday i would read a blog post from you that would drop me to tears. I am definitely sharing this. You provoked me to think differently about my life and circumstances with these words: “Poverty, as I understand it, is more than your economic situation or a lack of resources. It’s a mindset”.

  24. When I think of you Jeff, I think of an individual who has got a heart to stand out for the better of others. The truth about poverty is brought out here and am sure hope only lives where the mindset of poverty is changed, doing things together is absolutely fun, I love Sam’s answer. There so many other mind blowing stories of this kind here in Uganda, and it takes the initiative of a kind heart to share with the whole world the burning concerns!May the Lord bless you.

  25. Sounds like you are having a fantastic time! I remember visiting Kenya myself and having my world view and perspective stretched and challenged. There is something about getting on a plane and visiting another culture that seems to give us a better perspective of our life as apart of the greater plan.

    Looking forward to hearing more stories.

  26. Thanks for this post Jeff. I live in Malawi which is ‘just around the corner’ from Kenya and Uganda! I so resonated with what you said about “That feeling of utter helplessness, of being stuck in a situation from which you cannot escape – that’s what it means to be poor”. But even more than that in my setting I see many people who have been so beaten down by life’s circumstances that they cannot even conceive of anything other than their current circumstances. At least if people have dreams, you can come alongside them and find a way of helping make those dreams come to life, of helping them escape. When people cease to dream – that is true poverty.

  27. I have a question for you. We have sponsored a young man for 12 years. He is now in carpentry school. His family are farmers. He is 17. Is going to carpentry school a good thing for this young man? Will it provide him with a way to provide for his future family?

    1. If I may… I used to teach sustainable building skills to local young men whilst building health units in Uganda. I think that learning a practical, useful trade is a worthwhile way to live and work in any community, especially in Africa where ties between people are much closer (fences in Uganda are only to protect animals, not for privacy). It might not make him rich, but he should be able to support himself and a modest family. Many of the men we trained still work as tradesmen many years afterwards. As in the west many young Africans are attracted to IT, but finding jobs is difficult. A handyman is never a hungry one as my Ugandan colleagues used to say!

      1. Thank you so much. I just want to know the best way to encourage him and Lord willing, someday get to visit him.

  28. To say poverty is just a mindset is far from the truth. Because, when you see accumulated wealth on one side and no enough money to feed and clothe your children and yourself despite your hard working on the other (side), isn’t that situation poverty? Religion and Capitalism, yes, they are the ones responsible for Poverty which exists not in mind but in reality. While Capitalism exploits the working class, Religion comforts the poor with a false promise of heavenly life after death! To say poverty is just a mindset lacks the materialist point of view of Marxism that explains and answers this socio-politico exploitation … Poverty .. in real terms.

      1. Then why this glaring sub-title POVERTY IS A MINDSET and the following words “Poverty is an ATTITUDE that crushes your spirit” in the original post? If you are sure of what you mean to say, why not say that poverty is a bad situation or circumstance but it need not crush one’s spirit, etc. or something like that?

  29. Wow. Yes, I love this–“not in great, big Hollywood ways that we sometimes expect, but quietly and slowly as most true change occurs.” Thank you for sharing Kevin’s story! Praying for you all this week,


  30. Yes, I agree with you : poverty is in my sense more a mindset than a lack of money. Some people will have few money and gonna feel rich, while others will have millions and they never will be satisfied. With hope and a strong vision of what we want, I think that we can accomplish anything !

  31. Get out of town! You are with Wes Stafford!?! Drink it all in; this will be a life-changing experience for you. Thanks for going. Thanks for sharing what you’re learning.

  32. “Look beyond the appearance of poverty and see possibility” Thanks for your heart of giving to those in need. Your gift and call as a writer is evident by your ability to
    depict in words the lives of those “who lack basic necessities, who need
    legitimate help, but that in itself is not poverty. Seeing “possibility” and
    not “poverty” as you write in your blog post further reminds me of my need to
    not only change the way I think when encountering economic hardship, but also my
    actions when taking things for granted. Thanks for sharing this life changing
    experience and your profound revelation that “Poverty is a mindset”.

  33. Oh, Jeff, your sharing of this family’s story is tear-bringing. When we in the States think poverty, it is such a different story we would tell. Our assumptions of poverty are based on what we have and how much vs. how little the other fellow has. I will forever think on poverty so differently now having read your words and felt the impact your experience is having on you. Bless you for sharing it with us. Looking forward to “hearing” more.

  34. You really are an awesome writer! Perfect words for the readers to emphatize…may I be like you

  35. great post, and made an impact to me today, I thought living in this country where I have to learn the language is hard but brought me some perspectives that it’s just the mindset which should be changed. Thanks a lot Jeff, you are a great writer.

  36. Thanks again Jeff. I sure love what you have to say about poverty. People can seemingly have it all but still have that mindset of lack. Others seemingly have nothing, but they feel richly blessed.

  37. I completely enjoyed your post. Thanks! Two things I appreciate about this writing is that you used the word “Hope” as a verb not a noun. As I read my Bible, I challenge myself to understand many words as verbs, words denoting action, as opposed to nouns, words denoting a person, place or thing. Love, Hope, Joy take on much deeper meanings when they are viewed as verbs. Thanks for an excellent example of the verb “Hope”!

  38. Thanks for these posts as you and the team are in Africa. Thankful for you and the rest of the team for sharing behind the scenes the impact of sponsoring a child and their stories. Looking forward to the rest of your trip and your posts that follow as well. Well done!

  39. Hello Jeff, I like your website very much and I like its theme too. I checked and found out that your blog is running on wordpress. I wanna ask you to tell me what this theme is called? Because I am going to start my own blog and I think good design is very important.

  40. Thanks for pointing out the real meaning of poverty, Jeff. A huge part of poverty is, indeed, a lack of hope. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Sri Lanka many years ago and lived in a community that experienced economic deprivation but also spiritual power. It was a memorable experience and your post really taps into how attitude and outlook can be transformative. Thanks for the reminder. Joe

  41. hi Jeff; i’v heard lots of these kinds of stories about how even in some of the worst poverty you find people with great joy. i get up every morning thinking something good is going to happen. I think i made the change in my heart after i was diagnosed with sleep apnea and found out that my extreme tiredness wasn’t just something i would always have to liv with but something that could be treated. I have become more open to possibilities as i have lost the weight started my business did my first blog and later my first video. and my latest post about being blind and using Pinterest has surprised me by the number of sighted people who say they learned something about Pinterest that helped them. thanks for showing people it is possible to be happy and find joy even in less than american style perfection. take care, max

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