“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” 

These words of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird are often quoted but this morning, 50 or so leaders from various churches and nonprofits gathered at Holy Cross to do just that, and what we learned is that someone else’s skin can be very uncomfortable!

The Cost of Poverty Experience, a program of Unite the Church Greater Dallas and sponsored by Thrivent Financial, was held this morning in our Fellowship Hall. This experiential event allows participants to walk in the shoes of a materially poor family for a simulated month. These families face real life challenges and dilemmas that families in our community face on a daily basis. You can find out more about the COPE here.

The experience was powerful. It was eye-opening. It was STRESSFUL!

Participants were placed in “families” and given scenarios and a family framework from which they then had to accomplish certain tasks for the month. These included securing transportation, getting to work, finding child care, attaining medical care, paying bills, etc. By the end of the two-hour long simulation, few families had completed all of the tasks given to them. Some were evicted. Some had children taken away by CPS. Some lost jobs, but ALL were stressed out.

During the debrief time, participants discussed how the stress of completing their assigned tasks in the midst of lots of complicating (albeit very real!) factors caused them to start to making decisions within the context of the experience that were completely outside of their personal value systems.

“One week I wasn’t able to feed my kid, so the next week I chose to let his skip school so he could go to the grocery store for our family. I decided for that moment that food was more important than school.”

“One week I was stuck at work and watched my ‘son’ walk by with a drug dealer. I had to just let him go because I knew if I left work early I wouldn’t be able to pay the rent.”

“As a mom in real life, I was horrified at the end of this experience when I realized that I had not had time to check on the well being of my 3 ‘children’ during the simulation. I just didn’t have the time, energy or resources. I had to just trust they were going to school and doing what they were supposed to be doing.”

Walking around in someone else’s skin, even for just a couple of hours, brought understanding, compassion and empathy. The experience changed not only the perspective or our participants but also changed their behavior.

As I have been thinking about all of this this afternoon, I keep thinking about how Jesus chose to do just what Atticus Finch suggested. He chose to come down from heaven to walk around in our human skin for a while. But unlike during the COPE this morning, the stress and brokenness of the world could not derail him from his mission to redeem and restore all things. His mission was completed. Once for all.

But knowing that love motivated Jesus to give up everything to come and walk around in my imperfect and messy skin DOES change my behavior. That type of mercy and grace motivates me to seek to understand more fully the challenges that my brothers and sisters face around me. It drives me to seek ways in which I can share just a bit of that love that was first shared with me, and it changes my perspective. May I see every opportunity to listen, love and serve a brother or sister in Jesus’ name as an opportunity that He gives me to walk around in HIS skin for a while.

Angie Nitz