The Dirty Little Secret of Poverty Work
I believe there is a dirty little secret about poverty work. Too often, people in poverty are viewed as charity cases that allow us to fulfill our life purpose. It makes us feel good to go down to a poor neighborhood and “rescue” somebody. Want to feel like a million bucks? Go serve a turkey dinner to someone down on her luck, witness to and pray for her, and go back home to comfort. Organizationally, want to raise a million bucks? Show images of a community outsider being the hero saving the poor neighborhood.
This type of poverty work is exploitive. The mindset is one of being the “savior” of the poor. It focuses on the deficits of people living in the condition of poverty, not paying much attention to the God-given talents and gifts that they possess. It revolves around the wants and needs of the poverty worker instead of the person in poverty. This leads to the poor and their neighborhoods often being treated as second class.
A step up is ethical poverty work. Operating from this mindset, the poverty worker is motivated by doing good work among the people because it is the right thing to do based on his or her morality. They desire to build a more just society. A mindset rooted in the ethical realm produces behaviors and goals towards advocacy. Advocacy for the poor is certainly needed. The question becomes is it enough?
As Christians, our poverty work should function at the highest level, which is redemptive. Being redemptive requires advocacy; yet our mindset should be embedded in the concept that God does the rescuing, freeing people and communities from sin and oppression (Isaiah 60:16; 1st Peter 1:18-21).
To be redemptive is to understand that poverty work is more than a job, but rather a second commitment after our salvation to use our God-given time, talent, and treasure for the Kingdom. It is a conscious sacrifice of our life and work to help people and neighborhoods in poverty flourish. As a rule of life, we participate in spiritual practices that serve as expression of both our faith and calling towards the poor.
September 9, 2020 | Butch Ernette
Great stuff Alvin. How many times have we spoken about anecdotal evidence of this? BTW Isn’t is about time for lunch?
September 10, 2020 | Joshua George
A great word for Christians with a desire to help the poor. Start with your own motivations and frame your role in God’s work as seeking to better the situation of others, period. When we approach this work as a way to provide experiences or photo opportunities, we do a disservice to all parties. The end result is pride and pity on the part of the “helper”. It’s not about the money or scale of the programs, it’s about the heart!