“There shall be no poor among you.” Deuteronomy 15:4
Poverty is a complicated issue that manifest itself in multiple and different ways. Solving it requires multiple and complicated responses and solutions. It is not an easy problem to tackle. My intent is to share what I believe is an apostolic response to the issue of poverty.
The way we define a problem will have a direct impact and will have a major role in determining our response, the solutions we use and the ways these are implemented. The following table describes the way church and society has responded to poverty for many years and it is based out of our own perception of the causes of the issue:
Perception of Poverty and Response:
- Lack of material resources: Give material resources to the poor
- Lack of knowledge: Educate the poor
- Oppression by powerful people: Work for social justice
- The personal sins of the poor: Evangelize and disciple the poor
It is important to mention that there is a difference between the way non-poor people describe poverty and the way poor people describe it. Non-poor people (including the church) describe it as the lack of food, money, clean water, medicine, housing, etc. However, poor people describes poverty more in psychological terms like shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation and voicelessness. I submit to you that these are signs of an even larger problem that cannot be boxed into our convenient traditional definition of poverty as lack or deficit of material things. This mismatch between the outsiders’ perception of poverty and the perception of poor people themselves can have devastating consequences for poverty alleviation efforts. If we misdiagnose the underlying problem we might make the situation worse in our well-intended efforts to help.
In order for us to respond to poverty we must have an understanding and a common definition. For our purpose I will define poverty as:
“The consequence of broken relationships, specifically with God (spiritual intimacy), Self (people’s dignity), others (community) and the rest of creation (stewardship).”
In other words poverty is the result of relationships that are not working.
Poverty is the absence of shalom (nothing broken/nothing lacking) in all its meanings. The results of these broken relationships are manifested in a variety of ways and are evident in the material and non-material forms of poverty.
When we don’t enjoy a healthy relationship with God, self, others and the rest of creation, we cannot function properly and cannot experience the fullness of life and purpose that God intended for us when He created us. This does not only have an impact on those living in “material poverty”, but it also has an impact on the rest of society and in culture. The way we create culture, including economic, social, political, and religious systems – reflect our basic commitments to God, self, others and the rest of creation. Even in our well intended Christian and/or civic response to the issue we can perpetuate the condition we are trying to alleviate, make more harm than good and in many instances contribute, facilitate and foster the sin of systemic poverty.
There are 3 main areas of response to poverty:
- Relief - it can be defined as the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a natural or man-made crisis.
- Rehabilitation - begins as soon as the intended relief efforts have achieved its goal. It seeks to restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their pre-crisis condition.
- Development - is a process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved (helpers and helped) closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others and creation.
As the poor develop, they are better able to fulfill their calling by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruits of that work. Development is not done to people or for people, but with people. Applying the wrong “medicine” (relief instead of rehabilitation or development) is one of the biggest mistakes we could make in our response to poverty. Our response should be determined based on the stage in which we find the recipients of our help. An apostolic response to poverty must have a balanced and well-thought approach to the issue, one that is comprehensive, one that will bring reconciliation to the broken relationships…(God, self, others, creation), one that will not hurt those we are trying to help and one response that will not be paternalistic in its nature.
A paternalistic model in the alleviation of poverty can be a very harmful way to respond. We are NOT called to do for others what they can do for themselves, which is the popular definition of paternalism. We are called to empower, encourage and facilitate development, and this requires a change in our mindset.
There are five forms of Paternalism:
- Resource – providing resources
- Spiritual – assumption that we have more to give spiritually
- Knowledge – we assume we know better (know it all)
- Labor – Do work that others can do for themselves
- Managerial – We want to do it our way (our plan, our resources, our timeframe)
A Non-Paternalistic Reconciler, (NPR) in its basic form, is an individual that has understood and has accepted the ministry of reconciliation of Jesus, that now has been entrusted to us and that is found in Colossians 1:19-20 and 2 Corinthians 5:18. This individual has recognized that poverty is the consequence of broken relationships with God, self, others and creation. This individual understands that the long-term solution to the issue of poverty is found in the reconciliation of these broken relationships. What makes this individual different is the model and approach that he or she uses on the issue at hand. It is somebody that has transformational development as the core of what he/she does. A NPR even does relief and rehabilitation efforts developmentally.
A Non-Paternalistic Reconciler mindset is required for apostolic transformational development and it allows us to come out of an overused model, hence facilitating the process of reconciliation. This mindset allows us to see that many of the answers if not all of them are found within the boundaries of the people and communities affected by poverty and not found in the limited resources we can provide. This NPR mindset begins with an individual but can be transferable to organizations, ministries, churches, governments, NGO’s and other institutions dealing with poverty alleviation efforts. I believe that a NPR model can be used to have long-term and sustainable impact in those we are called to help.
An apostolic response to poverty is one that looks for reconciling the above-mentioned broken relationships, promotes the development of individuals and communities, and is able to do it without a paternalistic approach. These are some examples of apostolic responses:
- Short-term missions that are participatory and asset based in nature, and are done as part of a long-term strategy implemented and executed by locals.
- Economic development initiatives such as job creation and preparedness, training on financial management that will include money management, budgeting, financial transactions and wealth accumulation.
- Micro-Finance/Microenterprise Development initiatives that will foster economic empowerment and access to capital to those that do not have it.
- Sustainable agriculture training and support
- Water management training
- Asset-based community development
- Creation of Social Enterprises
- Creation of Social Businesses
As apostolic leaders we are called to advance the Kingdom of God. As long as the Kingdom is not fully manifested we most likely will have the poor among us. That is because there is both a “now” and a “not yet” to the Kingdom”. So while the Kingdom is already here, there are some manifestations of the Kingdom that are still to be seen. Eradicating poverty is one way to bring heaven to earth and manifest His Kingdom where we are. Although we are not there yet; we are ambassadors of the Kingdom, joining Christ in His work of reconciling all things to himself, allowing us to reconcile with self, others and the rest of creation.
2015 Miguel Angel Perez / firstname.lastname@example.org
Miguel Angel Perez is originally from Puerto Rico and resides now in the city of Tampa, Florida. He holds a Masters Degree in Social and Civic Entrepreneurship from Bakke Graduate University. He is married to his wife Damaris who holds a Masters Degree in International Relations and Conflict Resolution. Miguel and Damaris are commited to advancing the Kingdom by fostering and advancing business and economic development globally. Miguel currently serves ICAL as an International Ambassador for Latin America.