Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Poverty 101

My friend Jennifer, who is a college student at George Fox University, asked me to help her with a feature article for a class on the topic of poverty and the Christian attitude towards poverty. I was more than happy to share my experience and what I've learned in the last couple of years through my advocacy with Compassion International and the live58.org movement. I've also been educated by reading "When Helping Hurts" and the ministry of the Dave and Debby Thomas. Below is the   interview questions she asked and my responses.  
1. In your own words, define poverty.
Poverty is not just economic destitution or strife. It can also be a broken spiritual, emotional, or physical relationship. The more I learn about poverty, the more I understand how all of these things are tied together. One of my favorite definitions of poverty is from Wess Stafford, President of Compassion International. He says, "The opposite of poverty is not wealth, it's enough." I think about the song "Your Grace Is Enough" and I hope that when I define eradicating poverty, that I'll base my definition and my measure of success on God's grace…that it is indeed enough. And the amazing thing about grace, is it's richness and abundance!
2. How would you describe the Christian view of poverty? 
This seems like a mighty hard question to answer since I don't feel like I can speak for the whole of Christendom. But I do believe that followers of Christ are beginning to move to a more holistic view of poverty (spiritual, emotional, physical, and financial) than ever before. We are understanding that we must attack poverty from all angles and not just providing short term aid…throwing money at the problem. Unfortunately, I think many Christians still see poverty as something that cannot be overcome. We aren't really willing to do the work that Jesus calls us to in Matthew 25. Overcoming poverty requires that we give up our comforts for the good of others. And most 1st world Christians aren't willing to actually "give till it hurts" in all manner of ways  - not just financially.
3. What has your experience been in working with those in poverty?
When I went to the Philippines and Honduras the first thing I noticed was the financial poverty. For an upper middle class American, the living conditions seemed overwhelmingly challenging. But as I talked to the people and begin to enter into their world, my eyes were opened to see that what mattered most was not the size of their home or their lack of things, but whether or not they were living with broken relationships in terms of spirituality, emotional, and/or physical distress. When an individual possessed a hope in Christ and had experienced God's love (understanding that they had value as a child of God), the financial poverty that they were living in was not as important. This is not to say that financial poverty doesn't matter-because it certainly does. People need to be able to eat, to have a safe living environment, and to have access to healthy care and education. But knowing God provides hope and as it says in Romans 5:5 "Hope does not disappoint."
4. Through your charitable work and experiences, what do you see as being the root causes of poverty?
A lack of hope cause by broken relationships. Greed. Lack of education (scholastically and Biblically). When people do not know what they were intended for, when they have no means in which to pursue their dreams, hope is lost. 
5. How do you see Christians succeeding or falling short in combating global poverty?
We are succeeding by understanding more and more that we can and must do something for those living in poverty. It's not just about "them" it's about "us." Each one of us lives in some sort of poverty. Quite often we, the affluent, live in emotional or spiritual poverty. We cannot ignore or place blame or pretend that poverty is someone else's problem. We must as Christians be the leaders and the initiators in combating poverty on a global scale. We must use a holistic approach. We must raise up a generation of children living in poverty to understand that God does indeed have a hope and a future for them. Organizations such as Compassion do just that. Where we fall short is in accepting the status quo. We take too seriously the thought that "the poor will always be with us" and accept that as an excuse to turn our back or ignore those in extreme poverty. This is an abomination and not what Christ meant. We can see over and over in the Bible that God calls us to love and care for the poor. 
6. What are the next steps the Christian community should take in combating global poverty?
If every Christian made a personal commitment to a child living in poverty, joined in the fight against sex trafficking, donated to organizations that provide safe water and/or contributed to the prevention of AIDS, etc., we would change the world. There are so many ways to say, "I don't believe this is how life should be for the majority of the people living on the planet. I will do something to help eradicate poverty." It's not that we lack organizations already in place to provide help…it's about deciding that changing the world is more important than our own comfort. 

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