"Poverty is so big. What can I do?"
Jesus once said that we would always have the poor with us (John 12:8), predicting that poverty will continue to be a long-standing issue for humanity. Poverty appears to be such an overwhelming reality that there is little one human being can do against it. Yet Jesus also mandated that we care for those in our midst who are in need and marginalized (Matthew 25:34-36, Mark 10:21-22, Luke 14:12-14). The reality is that if the world is to become what it should be, then we all must reach out in care for those in our midst who are in need. Together, we can add enough drops in the bucket to create a flood.
How can we fight poverty?
Here are five reasonable steps:
Why is there poverty? Hint: The answer is not "some people are lazy."
In fact, there is no simple answer. The answers to the question are relative to the individuals who are in poverty and the areas in which they live. For example, in the city in which I live, the cost of living is rapidly escalating. Affordable housing is at premium and getting harder to find. Such conditions exacerbate situations in which there is little financial stability, forcing people to make decisions about what they can and cannot afford. So when individuals who have given up paying for healthcare for the sake of rent are hit with a health problem, financial demands compound and move people farther from a place of security.
Affordable housing is one key factor in creating poverty. Other factors include access to healthcare and treatment, access to life necessities (like water and affordable food), and receiving livable wages.
Change how we talk about it
Poverty is not merely a lack of money. Around the world, there are many who subsist in poverty by my American-informed monetary standards, yet are without want. True poverty is a loss of hope and a feeling of isolation. Poverty is when we feel we lack security and there is no one who will help. When we talk about poverty as an issue of hope and wholeness instead of merely an issue of financial well-being, we move closer to addressing the heart of the issue.
Reframing poverty as an issue of alienation suggests it is not simply about a lack of money, but a lack of community. So our reasonable call is to provide community for those that have none.
This is convicting. I often want to pursue the easy path: making my response to situations of poverty as brief as possible — like maybe I can throw some money at it and move on my way. Such a response can actually be self-serving: is it that kind of response that will relieve the other person's discomfort or mine? The deeper, more faithful challenge is to respond in ways that lead to community. In meetings on the street, it might begin with asking a person's name. In a more focused situation, it demands I get to know those who I seek to support.
As Ingrid McIntyre, director of Open Table Nashville, once remarked to me: "the most faithful thing we can do is be community."
When we get to know people and the issues at hand, advocacy is likely to be a natural response. When we care for others, their issues become our issues. But advocacy can also be a means for getting to know others in community. Consider what issues in your community inspire you and how you might get involved through volunteering your time and presence and through sharing messages.
Live within your means
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement (which I like to claim to be a part of), suggested Methodist practitioners regularly ask each other if they have prayed about the money they spent. The heart of the question points us towards what we might consider to be the best use of our resources. Praying about the money I spend leads me to questioning whether or not my expenditures are necessary. They may actually be harmful to my financial well-being and the well-being of those around me. Scrutiny of expenditures will reveal that.
When we take responsibility for our own finances, it becomes easier to advocate on behalf of others — and provides us a greater platform of assistance.
Ryan Dunn is the Minister of Online Engagement for RethinkChurch.org. He is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church living in Nashville, TN.
[Posted August 16, 2108]