I have been reading an interesting book in preparation for my trip to Cambodia called When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. I know poverty exists. I have seen it in the US and in just about every country I have visited. So far I have been of the school of meeting the physical needs as well as the spiritual needs. Someone won’t listen to the hope of Jesus if they haven’t had a decent meal in days, but if we feed them and don’t tell them about Christ, what good are we doing? Corbett & Fikkert offered some very interesting insights and questions in dealing with this issue.
Here’s how they define poverty:
Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meaning.
This makes a lot of sense if you think about it. We are all broken by the effects of the fall and our own sinful nature, out of relationship with God except through Jesus’ saving grace. Because of this, we deal with breaks in relationships with each other. We lack the confidence or the dedication to continue on in the face of difficulty. The world is broken too. All of these factors contribute to the poverty in the world.
There’s more to poverty than a lack of resources, but that is a very real aspect of it. It goes back to the brokenness of the relationships. A husband and wife encounter issues, and without the strength and wisdom of knowing Christ, the husband leaves. The wife is left to care for the children on her own and lacking the skills and confidence to find a good job, she struggles to provide adequately for her family.
As believers, how do we respond to issues of poverty? We often rush in, providing whatever needs are on the surface, and not taking the time to learn about the community and individuals. We provide relief to “stop the bleeding” when that might not be the appropriate response. There are definitely times when it is, such as immediately after a natural disaster or catastrophe. But once that short time of relief is over, the focus should be on rehabilitation and development of skills and discipleship so the people in poverty can move forward and be able to grow and go out on their own. The authors emphasized that people should get to the place where they are bringing glory to God and enjoying Him, through their work and life. It is about bringing restoration to people and bringing them back into right relationships through God’s power (and not ours!).
Poverty is a very real issue and one that we as the church have often ignored or not responded to properly. I think we need to really think through how we are encouraging those currently in poverty, not in a paternalistic way, but showing the amazing love of our Heavenly Father who is already at work.