Saturday, December 08, 2007

A walk in poverty's shoes

from the Dallas Morning News

Plunge2Poverty' is Waco couple's bid to convey reality of the condition

Q&A WITH ... Jimmy Dorrell has never experienced abject poverty firsthand. But that hasn't kept the Waco minister and teacher from feeling love and compassion for those who face such an existence. More than 20 years ago, he and his wife, Janet, sold their home and traveled the world to witness poverty up close.

"We have worked in the slums of Calcutta, hugged physically and mentally disabled orphans in Mexico City and drilled water wells in a small village of Haiti," Dr. Dorrell says in his most recent guidebook, Plunge2Poverty (New Hope Publishers).

The work had a huge effect on the couple's lives. But the big change came in 1986, when a youth minister friend from Oklahoma called to ask for help. The minister had some great kids in his youth group, but they lacked true compassion for those they talked about helping.

The Dorrells created a Plunge2Poverty simulation experience so that privileged and middle-class people can get a sense of the despair of poverty and homelessness.

The youngsters receive $40 of "simulated money" that is to last them through the weekend and cover all expenses, including food, rent, clothing, medicine and miscellaneous items. In addition, they may keep only four personal items, and almost everything – from a toothbrush to the Bible – is considered an item.

Today, more than 6,000 young people have experienced the intensive simulations.

To help spread the experience, the Dorrells this summer released the Plunge2Poverty guidebook. It helps those who want to develop their own poverty simulation know what's needed.

The book includes poverty facts and figures, not the least of which shows that approximately 1.4 billion people in the world live in what is described as "absolute poverty," meaning they are existing without even hthe basic necessities of life.

Dr. Dorrell is the executive director of Mission Waco, which he and his wife founded in 1992, and an instructor at Baylor University. He recently answered questions about their new book from Staff Writer Selwyn Crawford. Here are excerpts:

Briefly explain what a Poverty Simulation is.

An intensive (42-hour) blend of experiences of becoming poor and learning about God's concern for the poor.

Do you believe that a person who is not truly impoverished can fully comprehend the breadth and scope of such a condition through simulation such as yours?

No. We begin the weekend with a disclaimer because we know that an abbreviated poverty experience by those who have deep middle-class values and assets can only begin a process which must grow.

Have you and your wife's own lives been affected by doing the simulations?

Yes! We have watched thousands of participants "get it." They often come with narrow world-view presuppositions, and we watch them transform over the weekend.

Your book is a guidebook for people to do their own poverty simulation. Why did you feel the need to publish such a book?

Yes, it is a guidebook but more than a simple manual. There are theological concepts, experiential educational and behavioral principles, lots of global facts and issues, and processing ideas. Since we have done this 20 years now and have led several workshops on it, the requests came mostly from groups who lived too far from Waco to really make it happen.

Do you believe that the Plunge2Poverty Simulation experiences are better if you lead them, or will people get more from following your guidebook?

The setting in Waco is excellent and solid, and our experience leading them has enhanced our abilities to facilitate them, so Waco has some extra benefits. However, the logistics and skills to transplant it other places have proven very effective.

What sorts of changes have you noticed in people who have completed a Plunge2Poverty experience?

Initially, there is usually a new humility and gratefulness that is overwhelming. They begin to explore encrusted middle-class presuppositions and previously held misconceptions of the poor. We push for clear, defined "next steps" when they return home.

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