Doctors have a tough job I would not want to have. When diagnosing a medical problem, he must do two things right.
First, he must give correct diagnoses. Secondly, he must treat the illness and not the symptoms. If he is wrong, the patient is worse off, even dead. Poverty works the same way. How we view and understand poverty will determine how we go about fixing the problem. Because in the end, we want to help, not hurt.
If we believe that poverty is caused because there is a lacking of knowledge, then the solution would be education. If the poor are held under the thumb of powerful people, the correct response would be to stand up for the oppressed. If the poor are in poverty because of sin, evangelism and discipleship would be an appropriate response. Finally, if the poor lack material resources, they could be helped by acquiring material. Where it can get sticky is when the struggling person is lacking more than one of these problems and to what degree they are struggling. Some issues might not be apparent but could be a deeply held worldview belief that is holding them down.
Broken relationships cause poverty.
Because of sin, all of our relationships are broken. We are relational people and our relationships need to be redeemed. Our relationship with God, with others, and with creation are damaged and in need of reconciliation. When these relationships are working properly, the alleviation of poverty is well on its way. Because of these broken relationships, the alleviation of poverty is complicated. However, by getting on the right track, we can head in the correct direction.
I am frequently reminded that I am in poverty. I have a ‘poverty of being’ that affects how I relate to others. I am a sinner and I am broken too. Often, when considering the poor, I have a tendency to think of myself as superior. This attitude will hurt, not help people. My frustration will show, my condescension will tear them down, or I will misinterpret someone’s action the wrong way.
With the foundation laid, we can now briefly move on to categorizing the needs of poverty. A person in poverty can be placed in one of three categories:
Relief occurs when a crisis situation has happened. Rehabilitation starts when the crisis has subsided. Development is an on going process seeking the reconciliation with God, others, and creation. A major emphasis must be placed on doing these steps with individuals and not to individuals.
“One of the biggest mistakes that North American churches make-by far-is in applying relief in situations in which rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention.” -Brian Fikkert
Giving a business curriculum to a person who is hurt, starving, or parched is not the right answer at that time. Giving constant relief to the chronic homeless person on the street is not the answer to helping this person. Situations, like people, come in all shapes and sizes and are complex. We must be wise. We must recognize the need for all people to be reconciled first and foremost with God through Jesus Christ. We must also realize the difficulty and complexity of poverty. Like the doctor, we must diagnose and prescribe the correct medication so we don’t end up hurting people instead of helping them.