Freedom from Poverty...
By focusing on symptoms rather than on the underlying disease, we are often hurting the very people we are trying to help.
Before the fall God established four foundation relationships for each person: a relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation...when these relationships are functioning properly people are able to fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and support themselves and their families with the fruit of that work.
-When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without hurting the poor or yourself, by Fikkert and Corbett
When we, especially North Americans, think of poverty it is usually in terms of material wants and needs. Poverty to us is to be without food, clothing, and other necessities to live a healthy and whole life. Very few of us would describe poverty in more psychological, emotional, or spiritual terms, but it's interesting to note that these are the very terms that the materially poor themselves use to describe their state. A study done by the World Bank and documented in the book series Voices of the Poor, confirms that the materially poor describe their own situations with much more than just being materially in need.
So what does that say to us? That poverty goes much deeper than not having "things." God created us to in His image, and so we are naturally relational beings. Four relationships affect our lives daily; that with The Father, self, others, and creation. A break down in any of these relationships can have dire consequences and can ultimately lead to poverty in some shape or form. Take John. John is a lawyer with a propensity towards workaholism. This means that he gets his identity and purpose from his job, and it also means that John has time to do little else. He's been divorced twice, and his current relationship is on the rocks. His kids barely speak to him. While his sin may leave him productive and materially wealthy, it also leaves him in relational poverty.
Zwala is from a poor African nation. She has been abused and used and as a result she believes she has no worth. She eeks out a meager living selling rugs woven from straw. Though she sees other women starting their own lucrative businesses with the help of small business loans from other nations, it never occurs to her that she can do anything else because she doesn't believe that she has any value. While some believe she simply doesn't want help, her breakdown in relationship with both God and self ultimately leads to her material poverty.
Kallie is a social worker who for all intents and purposes, makes a good living. She is also 450 lbs. Her insecurity and low self esteem keep her locked in her own prison night after night. She longs to enjoy relationships with others but is so afraid of judgement and so ashamed of her issues, that she keeps herself far from anyone who can hurt her. She knows deep down that she has an unhealthy relationship to food, but she just doesn't know how to conquer it. Something that God meant for good (food being a part of creation), she abuses. Kallie's breakdown in relationship to God, her self, and creation ultimately leads to her relational poverty. So for our intents and purposes, poverty is no longer a lack of material things as it is a lack of healthy relationships, the most important of which is a relationship with God, for out of that all other relationships flow.
When we talk about poverty alleviation, we are speaking about much more than simply throwing money at the problem. We're talking about dealing with broken relationships and bondage. We're talking about acknowledging our own poverty first so that we can fix others. We're talking about investing time and energy in bringing the love and freedom of Christ to those that feel that there is no hope.
Finally understanding what poverty truly is will help us to not only treat the symptoms but begin to cure the disease behind it. Christ came to restore all of the four major relationships to health. He came to cure us of poverty in all aspects of our lives. He came to set us free.
Many of the principles shared in this blog post come from When Helping Hurts, a book geared toward a Christian perspective on alleviating poverty.