Asian slum poverty is NOTHING like North American inner city poverty - right?

I'm visiting Canada's notorious Downtown Eastside again this week. It's the poorest postal code in the country and the most concentrated area of drug activity in North America. It's a ghetto.

It's also the beautiful and broken place I called home for six years.

 A community meal at our Downtown Eastside house

A community meal at our Downtown Eastside house

And the reunions have been amAzing. Deep, heartfelt, teary hugs from people I journeyed closely with. People who detoxed in my living room, sleeping on the couch. People who took major life steps to get off the streets. People who have laughed and cried with me, and seen too much pain and struggle.

I often get asked whether poverty in the Downtown Eastside is the same as the poverty in Asia.

Most assume that the poverty in Asia is a lot worse - and it is by certain measurements.

But here's a story from tonight that reflects the underlying similarity of poverty and brokenness everywhere...

Seated in the living room of our old rambling house in Vancouver, are about 20 folks from the edges of the city. Most bear the scars of homelessness, abuse and addiction. A couple of the women have been trapped in cycles of prostitution and lost children to the foster care system. 

 Karuna and Vegegar

Karuna and Vegegar

I am sharing about the Alongsiders movement in Cambodia, and the room falls quiet as I project a video on the wall. It is the story of Karuna, who was orphaned at 9 and grew up in a tiny corrugated iron shack in a poor community of Phnom Penh. Karuna is now 23 years old, but she still lives in that corrugated iron shack. Economically and geographically, little has changed for her.

But something big has changed within.

Karuna, despite her poverty, has chosen to walk alongside another little girl who lives nearby. She is committed to pouring herself into one "little sister", saying, "I can't change my whole community, but I can care for one girl."

Around the room, people begin to respond - eyes shining - with their own stories. Karuna's story, despite being set half a world away, resonates deeply.

The women, especially, share stories of hardship and neglect. They see themselves in Karuna and her "little sister".

One woman, an ex-addict, shares that when she was 12 years old her mother injected her with heroin for the first time.

Afterwards she pulls me aside and in a shaking voice asks what she can do to help serve in the movement. She says, "Maybe if I had had someone to walk alongside me through all that abuse, things would have turned out differently for me."

At its root, poverty is about rejection, neglect, brokeness and despair. These are found in every city, from the most affluent nations in the world to the most economically impoverished.

The symptoms might look different, but the root is the same. And that's why God's love - and the radical welcome of Christ, demonstrated through you and I, is such a powerful force for transformation in every place.

Tonight we saw that powerful force at work, in the life of Karuna - and her story reached across the oceans and touched the hearts of hurting people half a world away.

Maybe, we're not so different after all.