Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When Helping Hurts

Chapter 3: What is success in material poverty-alleviation efforts?

I grew up in a church environment where I mistakenly understood my teaching to mean that God was only concerned with our souls and moral purity. I do not blame any of the spiritual authorities of my youth. Over the last 5 years God has corrected my mistaken notions.  The authors of When Helping Hurts express my current doctrine of Christ's redemption quite well:
Jesus is not just "beaming up" our souls out of planet Earth in Star Trek fashion; rather, Jesus is bringing reconciliation to every last speck of the universe, including both our foundational relationships and the systems that emanate from them.
This reconciliation of all things comes from Colossians 1:19-20, among others. And it has a direct impact on our understanding of the "solution" to poverty":
Poverty is rooted in broken relationships, so the solution to poverty is rooted in the power of Jesus' death and resurrection to put all tings into right relationship again.
I really appreciate that the authors put the responsibility for the condition of the materially poor on sinful individuals and the broken systems of our society.

Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.
Material poverty alleviation is working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work.
By defining poverty as a lack in these four relationships, the authors must produce a definition of alleviation that heals the brokenness.  Aside from this key aspect (which begins to become burdensome by its repetition: "Okay, OK! I get it already!"), they really define material poverty alleviation as "empowering people to earn sufficient material things through their own labor."

We were created to bring God glory, and we were created for good works.  "How we work and for whom we work really matters."
Side note: The motive thing really gets me.  Why do I want an engineering job?  Is it for me, or for God? James 4:1-3

"Our perspective should be less about how we are going to fix the materially poor and more about how we can walk together, asking God to fix both of us."  I want to particularly note the walking together. Relationships, real relationships with materially poor people, are what changed my heart in Egypt (of course through the power of the Word of God and his Holy Spirit). Relationships were particularly powerful for me when I encountered and was befriended by those who had nothing physically, but knew God far better than I might have ever dreamed of knowing him on earth.

A note on the american ghetto, which I have found all too true:
Living in the context of violence, some ghetto children correctly assume that they will not live very long. This can make them very present-oriented and give them little incentive to invest in their futures through such things as being diligent in school. And of course, a failure to get a good education contributes to their long-run material poverty.
In Detroit we knew a man in his late 20s who was trying to turn his life around. For the first time in his life, he was looking into the future and actually believed he might live into his 40s, and it sobered him. He said, "I don't want to be 45 and have people calling my cell for weed." Last I knew he was coming back to church.
Remember, the goal is for everyone involved to glorify God and to enjoy him forever, not just to increase people's incomes.
Next: Part II, general principles for helping without hurting.

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