As I walked the empty cobblestone streets of Antigua, I couldn’t help but feel a little lonely. It was my first day in the city and I knew no one. I wandered the streets aimlessly for a few hours discovering all the nooks and crannies that accompany an old colonial city. After several hours of walking, I was exhausted and collapsed on a bench in the plaza pulling out a book to read.
“Would you please buy something?” the boy pleaded. “You could buy a necklace for your girlfriend?” I looked up from the book I was reading and quickly glanced at the boy standing in front of me, his eyes pleading with me and his arms loaded with necklaces and scarves. He was not the first vendor that had interrupted me begging me to buy something. Still feeling a little lonely and wanting to practice my Spanish, I decided to strike up a conversation with him. Manuel was 15 years old and lived in a Panajachel, a city about two hours from Antigua. He came to the plaza in Antigua every weekend trying to sell the artisan crafts his mom made during the week. He had never attended a day of school in his life. He had no skills, no money and very few opportunities. The only life he knew was a combination of begging and selling in the plaza for his parents. I couldn’t help but remember my life at 15. I had the world at my fingertips (or at least that’s what I thought) and my opportunities were endless. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. I wondered why God had given me so much and Manuel so little. I wanted to give him the opportunities I had but all I had was some money. That might help for a moment, but ultimately it wouldn't fix anything. I bought him some lunch and left.
The following weekend as I was strolling through the plaza, Manuel spotted me from a bench and eagerly rushed over to say hello. As we continued talking, I noticed anther familiar face. My Spanish professor Harvey was seated on a bench nearby with a group of Guatemalan men. I walked over and we exchanged hellos as Manuel slowly followed behind. Harvey introduced me to his friends and we briefly talked a bit about school and sports. Finally, Harvey looked at me and asked “Who is the boy behind you?” Without even thinking, I quickly replied “Only a boy named Manuel.” I stood there horrified. Why had I said “only”? Quickly bailing myself out, I added that Manuel was my “Spanish Professor” on the street and was teaching me a lot about the culture. Neither Manuel nor Harvey seemed to notice what I had said and the conversation continued. Eventually, I said my good-byes to all of them and started making my way back to my house with the words “Only a boy named Manuel” ringing in my head. “Only a boy named Manuel.”
As a child, I had been told that God loves and values every human equally, yet somehow at that moment, I had failed to believe it. A scripture like “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” had lost its meaning. From my cultural lens, Manuel was somehow worth less because he had less and understood less. Yet as I continued to think about Manuel, I knew from past experiences I had much to learn from him. Even though I thought I had many things to offer him, I still needed him more than he needed me. For my poverty is not a lack of money, a lack of education or a lack of opportunities but is in my understanding of the value and love that God has for others. While I continue to think of poverty only in terms of things, perhaps it isn't a big enough picture. Perhaps poverty isn’t simply in the lack of money, education, or opportunities but perhaps it is simply settling for less. Settling for less than He has commanded. Settling for comfort rather than obedience. Settling for revenge rather than love. Settling for material things rather than generosity. Perhaps, true poverty is simply settling for less than Our King!