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The Enigma of Poverty

Poverty and the Christian response to it.

Going on a missions trip can be exciting, terrifying, joy-filled, disturbing, deeply satisfying, frustrating, faith-building, challenging, exhilarating, exhausting, motivating, enervating, boring, frantic, fulfilling, humbling, mind-blowing, numbing, meaningful, life-threatening, an exercise in patience and fun. The work can be incredibly hard and the hours long. It can challenge your faith and draw you incredibly close to the Lord. The positives usually far outweigh the negatives. It’s a time of spiritual growth and being stretched. You come back forever changed. But, there is one aspect of mission trips I dread and detest with a passion. Almost daily, sometimes several times a day, people request financial or material aid. And, most of the time, I have to turn them down.

From my perspective I am a lower-middle class, ordinary ‘Joe’ with limited (sometimes very limited!) personal resources. Most of the money I have with me on a missions trip is not mine – I am merely the steward of other people’s funds which have been entrusted to me to accomplish a very specific task or project. Even if I did not have to give an accounting, if I gave to everyone who asked I wouldn’t have enough left to complete the tasks or projects I went on the trip to accomplish. I might not even have enough to get back home!

From the perspective of the people who ask for help, however, I am an incredibly wealthy person who can tap into pots of money whenever I like. The reason I don’t give is not because I don’t have it, it’s because I don’t want to. The concept of designated funds doesn’t fly too well. The perception that I’m tight-fisted isn’t helped at all by the fact that the very nature of a short-term trip forces one to spend in ways that you wouldn’t if you lived there. For example, it costs a lot of money to rent a room at a hostel (though far less than staying in a hotel). Eating in restaurants starts to add up after a few days. Having your clothes laundered commercially isn’t cheap either. But what choice is there? I would prefer to pay the people I’m going over to serve for the facilities and services I need but, if they are unable to provide them, I have to hire them elsewhere.

It also doesn’t help that time is limited. There are only X number of days to accomplish whatever it is that you went there to do. If you lived there you could afford to take a little more time and figure out how to do things as inexpensively as possible. But you don’t live there and you haven’t got the time. So, sometimes you end up throwing more money at a problem than you would under other circumstances.

The locals witness all this and marvel at your profligacy. Looking through the filter of their need blinds them to the larger picture. They cannot see the, sometimes great, sacrifices which you’ve made to bring them whatever help you could. There are times when the physical and material overshadow the worth of the spiritual blessings you’ve brought.

Each person who encounters genuine need and poverty has to learn to cope with it somehow. So far, I haven’t done a very good job of coping. I come away feeling guilty, embarrassed, angry and helpless. It would be easy to become callous. Since even if I gave everything I have it would only be a drop in the ocean of need, it’s tempting not to give anything at all. Is there a solution to poverty? If so, what is it?

A world without poverty?

Imagine, for a moment, a world without poverty. What would it look like? George MacDonald shares his vision of such a world in his book The Curate’s Awakening. He replaces the profit incentive with the motive of service. The idea is that anyone who has goods or services will joyfully give to anyone who needs them, secure in the knowledge that his own needs will also be met in the same way. Needless to say, this would only work if everyone was almost wholly Christ-like. MacDonald also does not address the issues of capital investment or the production of goods. We need something a little more real-world. Something which is less simplistic and Utopian and makes allowances for fallen human nature.

Let’s start with land reform. To level the playing field (pun intended), in my ideal state all land belongs to a central authority. Before you write me off as an expletive deleted, for spouting MarLenism propaganda (MarLenism is a deliberate misspelling, by the way!), consider the following: Every family except those in the ruling class is given an equal holding of land. As long as they abide by the laws of the state, the land grant is perpetual. There is no lease to expire and nobody can run anyone else off his allotted portion. Though the land does not belong to the family which lives on it, they may do anything they like with it except sub-divide it or sell it. This includes farming, ranching, mining, forestry and the establishment of light industry. To ensure ecologically sound practices, everyone must farm organically and also let the land lie fallow every seven years.

The land grants are inherited on the principle of primogeniture. In other words, upon the death of the head of the household, the entire parcel goes to the eldest son. If there are no sons, the land goes to the oldest daughter, but does not become part of her husband’s homestead. In this way the land is held together in economically viable tracts and nobody can permanently accumulate more than one holding. It is also an inducement for younger sons to enter trade, start a business or go into service industries. If there is no one to inherit, the central authority will assign the holding to a different family.

Though the land, itself, may not be sold, it may be leased out. In addition, if a family does not wish to work the land themselves, they may sell anticipated future harvests or produce to someone outside the family who does want to work the land. The family may repurchase the rights at any time on a prorated basis.

Our hypothetical, poverty-less society is administered by a hereditary caste. Before you dismiss this notion out of hand take another look at history. Hereditary ruling classes have often done at least as well as elected officials – and having one avoids the expense, false campaign promises and general waste and expense of holding elections. In contrast to the general populous, families in the administrative class are not given any land grants. They receive only a townhouse and a garden plot. This prevents them from adding too much economic clout to their political power. Another difference is that in contrast to land grants, townhouses may be sold. The sale of a townhouse is permanent. This is another corrective. Chances are that others in the ruling class won’t allow someone who is too incompetent to hold on to his own house much say in the administration of the state.

How shall we fund this state of ours? There are three major sources of revenue. One source is use taxes. What could be more fair than paying for the services you use? A second source of revenue is a poll tax. A small, but equal, amount of money is collected from every person 20 or more years old. This emphasizes everyone’s equality before the law. A third revenue source is a flat income tax of 10 percent. As there are no exemptions or allowances, this tax is easy to compute.

Now, let’s design a safety net. Those seeking additional job security over piece work or day labor may enter into labor contracts. (In other words, they can hire themselves out as indentured servants.) These contracts are regulated by law to avoid exploitation. The laborer gets security, room, board and other necessities, and a nest-egg at the conclusion of his contract in 7 years. In return the employer gets service at half the going labor rate.

Every third year the income tax is specifically earmarked not only for the maintenance of those in the administrative caste, since they have no income producing land, but also to restock dole houses where the disadvantaged or those in crisis can receive commodities free of charge. Those without sufficient income are free to harvest what they want from fallow fields, orchards and vineyards. By law, farmers are required to leave the corners of their fields for the less advantaged to harvest. Anyone can help himself to a meal of fruit or grain from anyone’s land at any time.

By law, private loans are interest-free. Rather than a source of income for the one making it, a loan is regarded as a means to help someone through a financial tight spot.

What’s to prevent a few shrewd and resourceful people from continually buying up options, and therefore, in effect, permanently displacing families from their homesteads? What’s to prevent someone to permanently enslave another through debt? Our hypothetical society has two reset mechanisms. The first is an automatic bankruptcy clause which takes effect every 7 years. Debts are automatically canceled. As a result, debtors are protected from creditors and assets are unencumbered.

The second reset occurs every 50 years. In that year, all land reverts to the original grantee or his heir. In other words, every couple of generations, every family gets an opportunity to start over. No matter how badly somebody has messed up, he gets another shot at making a go of things. Whether he chooses to remain on the land and work it, or immediately sells the future produce for instant income is a separate issue.

By now, most of you have probably already figured out that the economic system I’ve just outlined is identical to what is in the Law of Moses. Sure, I’ve disguised it a bit but, aside from the explanations I inferred for the various features, I took the economic system straight out of Exodus and Deuteronomy.

There are a couple of statements in Deuteronomy 15 which have always intrigued me. In verse 4, Moses writes, “…there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,” (NIV) Yet, in verse 11, he continues, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” (NIV)

The point is this: If even God could not devise a system which would eliminate poverty, who are we to think that we can? No matter what programs we initiate; no matter what services we provide; no matter how much we give, we will never succeed in eliminating poverty. Unfortunately, what Jesus said is true, “You will always have the poor among you…” (John 12:8 NIV)

The causes of poverty

What causes poverty anyway? If I read him aright, Ronald J. Sider in his book Rich Christians In An Age Of Hunger traces the roots of modern poverty largely to colonialism. As he and others are fond of pointing out, the Western colonizers overthrew sophisticated cultures in the lands they controlled or conquered.

No doubt the colonial period did have its share of injustice and economic horrors, particularly in places like the Belgian Congo and parts of Central and South America. There is no question that some of the effects remain to this day. But to lay the blame for present-day poverty at the feet of colonialism is simplistic to the point of being almost intellectually dishonest. Sure there were sophisticated cultures in existence before the colonizers arrived. But they were hardly benign utopias where poverty was unknown. Anybody who has read Kipling, let alone the scholarly histories, knows that! Read Kipling’s The Naulahka, which I recommend to all aspiring missionaries to South Asia, for an entertaining introduction to the culture clash between East and West.

Sider, and others like him, also seem to conveniently forget that the United States was once a collection of colonies, too. If colonialism is the cause of present poverty, then how come the United States is one of the richest nations on earth where the majority of people enjoy one of the highest standards of living in human history? Clearly, there are other factors at work. Particularly when one realizes that other places which experienced colonialism are blessed with as many, if not more, natural resources as the United States. What has held them back?

If poverty cannot be laid at the door of colonialism, then what is to blame? There isn’t just one cause, but many. For example, lack of initiative is a cause. This is a problem which persists from way back in the Apostle Paul’s day. He wrote to the Thessalonians: “…If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10 NIV) We often take this as a directive not to support those who refuse to participate in productive labor, but it can just as well be taken as a statement of fact. The reason some are poor is that they refuse to do anything about it. They want the benefits of labor without accepting the responsibility to labor.

A related cause is life-style choices. In her book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Barbara Ehrenreich relates her attempt to survive on minimum-wage jobs. No doubt there are many cases of genuine hardship, just as she states. No doubt she is right that there are many honest, hard-working people who don’t make wages adequate to live on. Yet, as I read the book I was struck by how many cases there were where the people involved were merely reaping the consequences of ungodly choices they had made earlier, or of holding on to costly bad habits or vices. We reap what we sow.

Another cause of poverty is exploitation. For example, James writes of those who defraud laborers by withholding their pay and other forms of coercion (See James 5:1-6).

Still another cause of poverty is our inability to handle wealth. In order to understand this we need to remember God’s intention for us. Ultimately, God’s intent is to make us like Christ. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…” (Romans 8:28-29 NIV) In light of this, God may very well keep material blessings from us if they would prevent us from becoming Christlike. The potential for material prosperity to turn people away from God was something He warned the Israelites about before they entered Canaan. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God… You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”” (Deuteronomy 8:10-14, 17 NIV)

Another cause of poverty is natural disaster and the random chance which seems to be an inherent part of this fallen creation. “…The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 NIV)

And, let us never forget that the devil has his hand in the distribution of wealth, or the lack thereof. For example, remember what happened to poor old Job. The devil is out to destroy us and he’ll use whatever it takes, whether it be poverty or wealth, to accomplish that goal.

When you stop and think about it, the causes of involuntary poverty can be summed up in one word: SIN! Whether it is caused by sloth, exploitation, pride, demonic influence or a fallen natural universe, involuntary poverty can always be traced to the fact that people have chosen to disobey God’s instructions.

How bad is it?

Just how bad is poverty, anyway? How wide-spread is it? Sider paints a grim picture of over 1.3 billion people, or roughly one in 5, living in absolute poverty. 750 million of these are malnourished – 151 million of them, children under the age of 5. He writes that 900 million people are illiterate, 1 billion do not have access to elementary health care and 1.6 billion do not have safe drinking water. Further, he notes that the gap between rich and poor continues to widen.

Truly, that is a grim picture. I do not question Sider’s statistics. Further, I agree with him that we should be concerned about our less advantaged neighbors in the world and do what we can to alleviate their suffering. Having said that, Sider largely missed one of the most important revolutions in the history of mankind. The edition of his book to which I’ve been referring was published in 1990. That was approximately the year when the forces of globalization reached critical mass. This led to the adoption of capitalism and explosive economic growth in much of the world during the 1990s. This growth has continued into the 21st century.

In his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman writes, “…for all the churning that global capitalism brings to a society, the spread of capitalism has raised living standards higher, faster and for more people than at any time in history. It has also brought more poor people into the middle classes more quickly than at any time in human history. So while the gap between rich and poor is getting wider – as the winners in today’s globalization system really take off and separate themselves from everyone else – the floor under the poor has been rising steadily in many parts of the world. In other words, while relative poverty may be growing in many countries, absolute poverty is actually falling in many countries. According to the 1997 United Nations Human Development report, poverty has fallen more in the past fifty years than in the previous five hundred. Developing countries have progressed as fast in the past thirty years as the industrialized world did in the previous century. Since 1960, infant mortality rates, malnutrition and illiteracy are all significantly down, while access to safe water is way up. In relatively short periods of time, countries that have been the most open to globalization, like Taiwan, Singapore, Israel, Chile and Sweden, have achieved standards of living comparable to those in America and Japan, while the ranks of the middle class in countries like Thailand, Brazil, India and Korea have swelled, due partly to globalization.”

My own experience, limited though it is, bears this out. Take for example the urban slum I knew as a boy. The same people still live there and it’s still a slum, but mud huts have been replaced with multi-story brick houses. Floors which once were surfaced with a mixture of mud and cow dung are now concrete, tile or terrazzo. The sewer is no longer an open ditch. The houses now have running water, indoor plumbing and electricity. TVs are common. Motorcycles have started to replace bicycles. It seems like everybody has a cell phone. When I visited there not too long ago I was amazed at how many computers I saw. The children of illiterate and semi-illiterate parents are now attending college.

If there’s been so much progress, then why do I still get besieged by people asking for help? Though the picture may not be nearly so grim as when Sider wrote his book (and I haven’t read what he’s written more recently); though real progress has been made, the fact remains that poverty and real need has not been eliminated. There’s still a very long way to go.

The cure for poverty

What’s the solution to need and poverty? If globalization has had such an impact and been so effective in raising living standards, is it the answer to eliminating poverty? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Earlier I wrote that the cause of poverty can always be traced back to disobeying God’s instructions. Since poverty stems from spiritual causes, it can never be eliminated by a material solution. The root issue has to be dealt with.

Why then has globalization been so effective in alleviating the plight of so many? To explain this apparent contradiction, let me give you PresbyterJon’s theory of prosperity: “A people or a nation will prosper to the extent that it follows God’s principles.” That statement needs some immediate qualifiers:

1) There is no room in the theory for the “health and wealth” gospel. It is not, and never was, God’s intent to made us wealthy. It is His intent to make us like Christ. If it takes want and need to form us into Christ’s image, then those are the tools which God will use to accomplish the task. Furthermore, the theory, as stated, applies only to peoples and nations, not individuals. It is very likely that individuals will have to give up wealth and/or suffer persecution in order to follow Christ. Jesus’ command to “count the cost” (see Luke 14:26-33) is no mere metaphor.

2) Wealth and prosperity are not indicators of righteousness. Remember that the devil tempted Jesus by offering Him all the authority and splendor of the world’s kingdoms. I take that to include the wealth of the world’s kingdoms as well. Jesus never denied that the devil had the authority to give it. If the devil has the authority to grant wealth and prosperity, then we cannot automatically assume that those who enjoy them are blessed of the Lord.

Keeping those qualifiers firmly in mind, there does seem to be a correlation between living by God’s principles and prosperity. For example, continuing from the Deuteronomy passage I quoted above, Moses states an important condition: “However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. (Deuteronomy 15:4-5 NIV) In other words, if the nation kept the Mosaic Law, God promised prosperity.

Now those words were directed specifically to the nation of Israel. What God said to Israel does not necessarily apply to anybody else but, in this case, there does seem to be a general principle involved. For example the principle seems to be implied in the following Proverb: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34 NIV)

If I am correct that there is a correlation between following God’s principles and prosperity, then it helps explain why America has been so materially blessed as a nation and also why globalization has been instrumental in raising the standard of living for so many. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, let me state emphatically that I am not one of those who believes that the United States was founded as a ‘Christian Nation.’ In my view the whole concept of a ‘Christian Nation’ is an oxymoron. Also, though I am very grateful that the United States is an independent nation, I believe that the revolution against Great Britain was scripturally wrong. “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry…” (1 Samuel 15:23 NIV) In my view, God has not blessed America because it rebelled against Great Britain, but in spite of it.

If the founding of the nation resulted from sin, then why has it been so blessed? The Ayatollahs and others of their ilk would say that America has been blessed from below and not from above. I do not believe that. I say that God has blessed America above almost all others because, in spite of its dubious origins, it has followed God’s principles to a greater degree than most other nations. Whatever its national and individual failings, and there are many, America has historically held on to much of the moral ethic and many of the ideals found in Scripture.

What do I mean by the moral ethic of Scripture? I mean such things as the principle that all are equal before the law. Included in the ethic is keeping one’s word, honesty in business, looking out for the interests of others, giving a fair return for services rendered and rendering fair service for wages received. It includes a concern for justice, a recognition of duty towards others and a repudiation of bribes and corruption. It involves the idea that we are here not just for ourselves but to serve one another. Even such institutions as the Bureau of Standards are reflections of the ethic.

Though the majority of Americans are not, and never in history have been, Christians, for the most part they have still accepted the ethic of Scripture. They have often failed to live up to it, yet still agree that it is good and right. I believe that it is because America has upheld the ethic to a greater degree than most other countries that it has also been blessed to a greater degree than most other countries.

This also explains why globalization has succeeded in raising living standards. For, in order for a nation to participate in the globalization system, it has to adopt parts of the ethic. For example, investors are not willing to risk their capital unless they have a reasonable assurance that the people with whom they are dealing are honest. They want assurance that a contract will not be nullified by a competitor’s bribe. They require transparency in order to make informed decisions. They demand honest books so they can evaluate risk more accurately. They want equitable laws so that disputes can be settled justly. To the extent a nation adopts the ethic, to that extent its material blessings increase and poverty diminishes.

But this also highlights one of the limitations of globalization. The benefits which have come from globalization are a byproduct of the ethic. Therefore, globalization, by itself, can never eliminate poverty. The ethic is, essentially, a spiritual thing. It is quite possible to adopt the externals of the ethic as a matter of pragmatism without embracing the ethic itself. In other words, instead of the behavior being driven by convictions of the heart it is adhered to because others require it. The ethic is accepted because it works, not because people agree that the ethic is intrinsically right. Until and unless we can get people to not only adopt, but accept the ethic from the heart, all of the attempts to eliminate poverty, including globalization, are merely dealing with symptoms, not the root cause.

I’m writing this at the beginning of 2009. Many are comparing the current financial crisis to the beginnings of the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Should the crisis worsen, it’s quite possible that many will conclude that globalization and free trade have failed, just as many in the 1930’s concluded that democracy and capitalism had failed. We should not be surprised if the ethic is repudiated along with the repudiation of globalization. (Tangent: The causes of the current crisis can be traced directly back to a failure to keep the ethic. But that’s another story!)

A principled, Christian response to poverty

So where does this leave us as Christians? Given that poverty is still with us, and always will be, what should our response be?

First, we need to recognize that poverty is not merely a question of redistribution. It is not merely a logistical problem of moving sufficient food to the areas which need it. It is not merely a question of providing jobs. It is not a problem of providing health care and clean water. The core of the problem is spiritual, not material.

In recent decades there has been a trend in mission work to put less emphasis on evangelism and concentrate instead on community uplift projects. This is a terrible mistake. In the final analysis we have not done any good if we have fed people’s bodies but failed to give them the ‘bread of life.’ “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36 NIV) It is likely that even the material gains will be short-lived if those we try to help do not embrace the ethic of the Scriptures.

Second, though our priority must be preaching the gospel, we must never make listening to the gospel a condition of providing help. Christians are often accused of offering material aid as bribes in order to win converts. Though the accusations are often false, the concern is valid. Giving aid to entice people to hear the Word is to cheapen both them and the gospel. It is to treat people as mercenaries. The following quote from Paul is taken out of context, yet fits: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17 NIV) Helping the poor should be a natural outgrowth and expression of our faith in Christ, not a gimmick to further our agenda.

Third, we must learn to help in ways which do not undermine the churches. When we provide aid to people in countries less fortunate than our own, we all too often bypass the local church with our programs and projects. When we do this we set ourselves above the leaders of the local body. We undercut their authority and the concept of family and unity within the church. If a program or project does not have the blessing and enthusiastic participation of the local church is it worth doing? It is significant that when Paul collected aid for the suffering believers in Judea, he did not bypass the local church but gave the offering to the Elders of the church in Jerusalem.

Fourth, we need to give priority to fellow believers. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10 NIV) It is easy to cause resentment when we provide more aid to those outside the church than to those within it.

Fifth, we need to recognize that competence in the Word does not equal competence in providing real material help. There is much we can learn from those outside the church. A while back my father and I were reminiscing about some of the projects in which we had been involved in the attempt to raise living standards. We could not think of a single success. Obviously we missed a thing or two along the way. If we’re serious about developing programs and systems to help the poor, we need to study and learn from those who already have a proven track record.

Sixth, we must learn to put the priorities and aspirations of the people we are trying to serve above our own. Partially as a result of our limited understanding of the cultures in which we are trying to work; partially as a result of our Western ‘can do’ attitude; partially as a result of our standards of accountability (which are often incomprehensible to people in other cultures), it is easy to impose our ideas and our solutions on those we are trying to help. Because we are the ones with the resources it is easy to unwittingly run roughshod over their emotions, thoughts and wisdom.

Seventh, we must help and give in such a way that it does not create dependence. It is all too common, in my experience, for those in need to request foreign assistance as a first resort. We need to encourage people to take a realistic look at their own resources before asking for help. The intent is to provide a helping hand, not a hand-out. The intent is to lift them out of poverty, not confirm them in it.

A personal response to poverty

Those are high sounding principles, but they don’t answer the question of what we can do on an individual level. How can we, as individuals help those poorer than ourselves?

Before we can give, we must have something to give. How can we give when so often it seems that we ourselves are just getting by? The obvious answer is by downsizing and/or simplifying our lives. I’m not going to offer any suggestions here – but I’m sure that each of us can think of things that we don’t really need. I’m sure we all can think of ways we could live more simply.

The real question is what should we do with the resources we’ve freed up? One reason I write these essays is to help clarify my own thinking. I began this one by telling about the dilemma I face while on mission trips. How can I accomplish what I’ve been sent to do and at the same time be of real help to those who ask me for material or financial help?

I still don’t have the answers. I probably don’t even understand the problem nearly as well as I ought. But as a result of trying to come to grips with the issue, here’s what I think I’ll try on the next trip: Next time, I think I’ll take some money with me which is specifically intended for benevolence. But I don’t want to bear the burden alone, nor do I want to act outside the authority of the local church. When someone asks me for help I’m going to ask whether he or she has brought the need before the church. If the church feels that it is a legitimate need – particularly if it is one which they feel they also ought to address – then, provided I still have some funds available for the purpose, I will contribute toward meeting that need. But I will do so through the church instead of directly. Hopefully, this will have several benefits.

For one thing, it’s more than likely that the locals will know the situation far better than I. They will know the real facts. Following their lead will help keep me from making mistakes.

More importantly, I hope that this approach will raise the consciousness of the local churches to their responsibility to look after their own. This, in turn, could foster the concept of the church as an interdependent family.

I hope this approach will also get people thinking about the resources they already have. Just maybe the next time a need comes up the first knee-jerk reaction won’t be to look for outside assistance. It will help the church realize that they truly are independent, not merely a mission outpost, and can take action on their own initiative.

I’m also hoping that acting in this way will result in a sense of greater harmony and fellowship between the local churches and myself. By acting through the church; by acting as part of the body instead of an independent outsider; it should reinforce the truth that in Christ we are one. It will demonstrate that I respect their authority.

Yes, I realize that what I’ve presented here is far from a complete answer to what we should do about poverty. I haven’t said anything about how we can help when we can’t personally be present. I don’t have those answers. But who knows? Maybe the small start I’ve suggested to solving for my own personal dilemma will spark other ideas down road.

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