One of the most intersting and thought provoking breakout sessions we atttended was lead by Dr Brain Fikkert. He was so helpful in generating dialogue around the issues of how we get to the root of the problem of poverty and asking us all to consider what we are doing when we do actually go to a place of poverty to serve. We need to be very cautious in our approach or we do nothing but exacerbate the problem and make poverty a continual circle of dependance. If you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak go for it! He is compelling and funny and absolutely humble in being the first to acknowledge that we are all broken. We are all living a poverty as we strive to have a full relationship with God, the relationship He intended.
Dr. Brian Fikkert is a Professor of Economics and the founder and Executive Director of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College. Dr. Fikkert earned a Ph.D. in economics from Yale University, specializing in international economics and economic development. He has been a consultant to the World Bank and is the author of numerous articles in both academic and popular journals. Prior to coming to Covenant College, he was a professor at the University of Maryland—College Park and a research fellow at the Center for Institutional Reform and the Informal Sector. He co-authored When Helping Hurts with Steve Corbett.
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18
We have to pour ourselves out on behalf of the hungry. We have to do something. The question is how do we do it.
Questions we generally ask before we donate:
- Where is the money going? How much is going to overhead vs. actually helping?
- What accountability is in place?
- Is the gospel being shed?
- Are the real needs of the community being met or is it just feel good?
But we should be asking this question:
- How does the ministry/ organization answer…what is poverty?
The way in which poverty is defined is how the organization chooses to resolve it.
Human beings are relational. They are wired for relationships. It is out of these relationships that we create culture, art, and business. The fall distorts all key relationships (self, others, creation, and God). And poverty is rooted in broken relationships. The fall has also lead to a society of people who are prideful, self-centered, workaholics. They deny God’s existence, power and truth.
We are all poor because none of us are experiencing the fullness of relationships as God intended. Until we embrace the message that we stink, our efforts will do more harm than good. Our mantra should be, “You are not okay, I am not okay, but God is okay.” The good news of the gospel is that we bring nothing to the table, but God loves us anyway.
Good intentions are not enough. You can actually hurt poor people. People go off about Obama and the US government giving money to the poor, but the Church needs welfare reform too.
Fundamental Equation for Hurting when Helping:
Material Definition of Poverty + God Complexes of Materially Non-Poor + Feelings of Inferiority of Materially Poor = Harm to both Poor and Non-Poor
We need Jesus Christ to rescue me from me.
From my pride,
from my need for accomplishment,
and from my motives to solve the problem of poverty.
What’s the first step in poverty alleviation? Repentance. Of material understanding of the world. (Not just our desire for things, but that we view the world in material things.) Of our pride and God-complexes. Of the “health and wealth” or the “prosperity” Gospel.
“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20
Poverty alleviation is about reconciling relationships: a process in which people – both the materially poor and ourselves – move closer to living in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.
The verbal proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom of God is central to poverty alleviation. The local church has a vital role to play because it is the body, bride, and fullness of Christ. We must address broken systems and individuals. When working at the individual level, it’s about people and relational processes, not projects and products.
How do you define poverty? What does poverty look like to you?