I confess that I used to watch Survivor when it first came out—a hundred years ago! I’ll also confess that I like the current slate of survivor shows with people like Bear Grylls (Google him if you don’t know him). Basically, all these survivor shows drop someone off in the middle of nowhere—specifically a “nowhere” that is very difficult to survive in: Amazon Jungle, Namibian Desert, Andes Mountains, Louisiana Swamp, you get the idea. In every show, those trying to survive have to do at least three things in order to survive: make some sort of shelter, find a way to produce safe drinking water, and find a food source. Food, water, and shelter—the three basic ingredients to survival. If you don’t have any one of these three components, you cannot survive! Survival skills help one to find and secure these three basic necessities of life.
A couple of years ago, one of our small towns in Mississippi (this is not the only one, but just one that I know of) had to issue a Water ban/boil for the whole town because the water lines and water infrastructure were so dilapidated that the water that came through them and ended up in the houses and schools and churches and town hall was not potable. It was actually dangerous to drink the water because it had too many contaminants in it. There are a lot of reasons water systems fail, but this one was from years of neglect. Not long after the town elected its first African American mayor in the 80s, the white population began to move out in masses. This left the town with a much lower tax base, so it had much less income to do basic maintenance on municipal projects like roads, sewers, water systems, electrical systems, etc. Without the economic power of these families, the town slowly began to decay. Stores closed, jobs left, crime increased, and those who could get out, did.
It took eleven months for the town to figure out how to fix the water problem. This was during the school year. Kids couldn’t drink from the water fountains in the hallways, wash their hands after using the bathroom, and the cafeteria had to improvise in just about every way imaginable. The whole town was lacking a sustainable water source—one necessary component for human survival. While the town was able to work together to alleviate the problem, many still feel it was only a temporary fix, so they are always waiting on the news of a renewed water ban/boil.
In this same town, all the grocery stores are gone. The Dollar General on the edge of town has started selling some grocery items like milk and bread, but not much else. People have to drive over 10-15 miles to find a fresh vegetable or piece of fruit. The only food available in the town is at the local gas stations that has chips, candy, and other forms of “junk” food. Healthy food is not available unless you have adequate transportation, which is one of the major issues facing rural America. Food—another necessity for human survival.
Food and water are legitimate concerns for the citizens of this town, but Shelter is also a problem. The vast majority of housing in the town is falling down. Old wood structures sag under the heat and humidity of the Delta and many houses are simply falling in and collapsing. I was in another one of our small towns in Mississippi just last week and I saw a house with the front door wide open. I thought the house was so dilapidated that no one lived there, and then a young girl—maybe 10-12—walked out of the house and closed the door behind her. I don’t know if she lived there or was just visiting, but it hurt me to think about a kid the same age as my children having to go into a house that run down. In an area where there are not enough jobs for the people and where the elderly barely hold on to these old houses, this is the rule not the exception. Shelter—another necessity of human survival.
In Mississippi we have 42 counties of persistent rural poverty. People in these counties and many of the other counties in Mississippi struggle not to excel, but to simply survive—food, water, and shelter. There’s enough blame for all of us to find fault with ourselves in the reasons why our state has the highest poverty rate in the nation—and has had this distinction for nearly all my life. However, blame won’t change anything! CBF of Mississippi is committed to poverty relief and development. We want to be part of the solution to the blight of poverty in our state. In an attempt to change this narrative and reality, we are partnering with churches, organizations, and individuals across the state to intervene in systems that continue to produce these issues, bring innovation to some of these issues to try something different, and advocate for policy that we know can make a difference.
CBF of Mississippi’s work in poverty is not an attempt to be some other political action group. We do this because every human being in the state of Mississippi is created in the image of our loving God. Every child, every teenager, every adult, every senior adult reflects back to us the image of God—the God we worship and love. We are compelled by the love of God and the love of neighbor to work for all people in our state. And, honestly, I don’t want to work hard just for the people in Mississippi to survive. I want more than basic survival for our people. I want our people to live into the plans God has for them, and that’s got to be more than survival.