I’ve been reading a good book lately. It’s called When Helping Hurts, and it’s written by two Christian economists from Covenant College. The premise of the book is that there are essentially right ways and wrong ways of alleviating poverty. Some methods are deemed to do more harm than good. According to the authors, many well-intentioned initiatives actually serve to perpetuate the very poverty they were created to alleviate. If you’re thinking their argument is a denouncement of liberal politics or government welfare programs, you’re mistaken. The intended audience is the church, not the lawmakers.
Here’s my attempt to sum-up their case...when the church eyes the poverty stricken around her, she is too quick to diagnose a lack of material resources as the problem to be solved. Instead, she should possess the patience and spiritual insight to see the inner brokenness that birthed the outer deficit. Poverty is not birthed by a lack of resources. Poverty is birthed by depravity. The collective depravity of mankind, not just that of the financially destitute, keeps the cycle of poverty in perpetual motion. The poor man suffers from feelings of low self-worth and hopelessness that is spread like wildfire in low-income communities. The rich man suffers from the misguided belief that he is responsible for his own good fortune; and therefore assumes to have the tools to pull the poor man out of his wretched state. Apathy meets arrogance. Brokenness meets brokenness. The result? The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.
Our ministry serves an area that is impoverished by American standards. How we approach the needs that confront us has a lot to say about what we truly believe. This much we must keep in mind; the poor need God, and we’re not Him. By confessing that we don’t have all the answers, we make room for the only answers that matter.