"When you forgive, you in no way change the past—but you sure do change the future." —Bernard Meltzer
The joy I felt from the people I met in Rwanda didn’t reconcile on the surface; after all, this nation has a long-standing history of poverty and a decimating genocide 25 years ago where 800,000 people were murdered in 100 days. So, where was all this vitality and hopefulness I saw all around me coming from?
Author Darryl Miller says a spirit of poverty is a pattern of thinking that typically becomes ingrained like a rut or a groove from which one cannot escape. This pattern of thinking—more so than socioeconomic structures—is what keeps people in impoverished nations exactly where they are. Poverty doesn’t just happen. His research shows how thinking patterns define the existence of people all around the globe regardless of gross national product. Poverty is the eventual result of the stories we tell to make sense of our world. It’s a set of ideas that become institutionalized into the structures of society.
This mindset doesn’t just exist in undeveloped or developing countries. It can exist within any of us. A poverty mindset says I don’t have enough. I will never have enough. And, there’s nothing I can do about it.
This was the opposite of what I found among the Rwandan women who are cabi’s Sister Entrepreneurs, the women we support through Opportunity International. They have a spirit of abundance that overflows, and it’s been a very intentional effort. They’ve broken free of these patterns by taking time to look at what’s happened during the course of their lives—especially legitimate causes for feeling limited and poor. After that reflection, there’s a critical step: forgive the people behind those circumstances. Freedom pours forth from that liberating act.
This idea was powerfully articulated by one of our Sister Entrepreneurs who we’ve had the privilege of getting to know over the course of several years and two in-person visits. She recounted the most horrific experience of her life—having seen members of her family murdered in front of her eyes, having felt her infant stabbed to death while strapped to her back, having been stabbed herself and left for dead on the ground for multiple days. How does one pull life back together after such horrors?
As she shared this story, we sat in her very nice home—a space she was able to afford through the artisan business she’s created, supported by the Opportunity International loans she’s received over the years. In her community, she’s a wealthy woman—in resource and spirit. And yet, she had been so poor; she’d lost her husband, most of her family, and all physical belongings.
How has she, and so many others in this nation, beat the odds, breaking free of a spirit of poverty? Not only surviving, but thriving?
In her eloquent words: “You can’t stay in a cycle of revenge. Revenge is not ours; it belongs to God. Forgiveness is a long journey. You cannot complete it in a short time. Forgiveness is a big pillar in my life. It’s the foundation of everything I’m having to do.”
She explained further that while resentment may be justified, and while people may do evil things to you for which you have every legal and intellectual right to hold against them, if you want to see miracles in your life, abundance in your life, it’s absolutely imperative that you forgive. Her life is a beautiful example of that fact.
The spirit of poverty can grip any one of us and keep us from living the abundant life we want. And while forgiveness never means excusing, it’s what sets us free to pursue the abundance we were meant to know.
Are you willing to take a moment to consider ways you may be held captive by the grooves of your thinking? How might forgiveness give you the freedom you need to pursue who you were created to be?
Next, read about how Opportunity International promotes peace through community and opportunity.