Can Our Generation End Poverty? Poverty, Pride, and Insurmountable Odds

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Can our generation end poverty?

This was a question posed several weeks ago at Jon Acuff’s blog

A few days ago I was reading through the comments in reply to the post, and I was reminded of one very ironic pattern.  Those who tend to have the most negative/realistic/jaded outlook of poverty are missionaries, NGOs, and medical workers who live in these developing nations.

Either that group of people are habitually negative people or they are people who have spent a life time worth of effort addressing the issue of poverty and feel like they are discovering very few lasting solutions to poverty.

Since I live in a developing nation, my conclusion is as follows:

Poverty is complex and complicated.  The ability to impact it will be incremental, and it will be dependent on the interaction and contact people have with people (not people’s interaction and contact with money).

Two Common Myths Associated with Eradicating Poverty

1.  We can solve their poverty problem.

When we ask the question ‘can our generation end poverty?’ you might automatically assume that poverty is exclusively our (wealthy nations) responsibility.  Our wealth makes us participants in the global issue of poverty, but not the saviors of it.

No person can solve another person’s problems unless that person is willing to be a participant in the solution.  In fact, rather than being a participant, the person with the problem must often be a leader and an owner of the solution.

The same is true of nations, and the same is true of poverty.

In our mission field, we’ve attempted to implement different benevolence and assistance programs and more often fail than succeed.  We then go back to the drawing board and try another plan.

However, what this means is that sometimes people wait to see what we come up with next.  Change will be difficult unless we learn a way to shift that burden of responsibility away from recipients to initiators.  Somehow, we must make it our goal to motivate, initiate, and influence change from within, and then those suggested changes from outside can really make a difference. 

2.  The eradication of poverty is accomplished by neither math nor money.

Poverty is a global issue, and I’m not willing to say (this will be unpopular) that the poor are poor because we haven’t sent them enough money yet.

Check out the video on Jon’s post again.  It makes us believe that by sending out more dollars we can eradicate poverty.  Money, one might erroneously think, is the solution to poverty. 

It’s not.  I think that’s making money our god.  It doesn’t matter how much money American Christians make and how much money American Christians give UNLESS we find ways to make our gifts ‘stick’.  I use the word stick because I can’t think of a better one.  But what I mean is that unless we discover a way that those gifts make a lasting difference, they’re not actually helping.

Bring it closer to home.  Let’s say that a young boy is raised in the inner city.  His father abandoned him, and his mom is hooked on drugs.  He’s a good kid with a good heart.  Someone gives that kid $100,000 so that he doesn’t have to be poor any more.

Will it work?

Not a chance.

The kid won’t know how to open a bank account.  He won’t have any idea about investment.  He may not think about his future.  Chances are, the money will evaporate in weeks.  He needs a person to lead him through that experience.  The person helps him, not the money. 

There’s an organization in Alotau that helps distribute aid dollars from Australia.  Recently, they’ve been pulling back on the amount of money it provides. Why? They’re having trouble finding anything to show for it.

The solution?

In a sin fallen world, we do whatever good we can – never expecting to solve anything – but simply to make our God ordained contribution to the brokenness of this world.

  • When will sin be eradicated?
  • When will child abuse end?
  • When will rape desist?
  • When will love rule in the heart of every world citizen?

See, poverty is a mark of our sin stained world.  People are poor because of the presence of different kinds of evils and dysfunctions in our world.  Since we cannot eradicate evil, we need to learn to be a light in the midst of this dark world.  No, we don’t ignore the problem.  No, we don’t hoard everything for ourselves.

We do whatever good we can in whatever ways we can.  And then we place the problem within the hands of our Maker.  Since sin is at the root of poverty, we cannot fix it or redeem it.  We can participate in the process. 

We must do all we can so that His will can be done here on earth just as it is in heaven.

Thoughts?

Comments

  1. says

    I think these are some excellent observations, Craig. But I wouldn’t expect less from you! You’re one of those people who’s had a lot of experience with this issue and I trust what you’ve shared here. I’m beginning to see more and more that it goes far beyond just having enough money. We’ve got to look at the values we have, how we look at money, how we look at ourselves, how we look at others, and how we imagine God fitting into all of this. I also think your point about expecting money to solve poverty is the same as making money our god was excellent. There are so many aspects of poverty that money can’t touch, so we should be cautious when we start thinking money is going to solve it all.

  2. Mary says

    Great post Craig, and wonderful insight. It’s sad that most people think they can “throw” money at things to solve the problem and then they don’t have to think about it anymore. But when it doesn’t go away, they tut-tut about how hopeless it is and maybe they should just quit trying to help. It never dawns on them to step out of their comfort zone and try their hand at offering personal help.

    I know that you have to actually observe these things in order to understand them more deeply and you’ve definitely been in that position. I only got a small taste of it when I was in Haiti but just the week I was there showed me that showers of money without the hands to steer does very little good.

    Love your posts and your deep insight into things…keep up the good work!

    Mary

    • says

      Mary,
      Thanks for the comment.

      It does reveal something unhealthy about out mindset when all we want to do is to write checks. Yes, we must write checks, but that is part of the solution – not the entire solution.

      I’m thankful for your time in Haiti as I’m sure God will use it to continue to teach you important lessons on this topic.

  3. says

    I think you make an excellent point that often gets missed, that poverty is a mark of a sin-stained world. The fact that we’re fallen and sinful, and the fact that there will continue to be sinful people who make poor choices – means that we’ll always have poor people. It also is an important point that just throwing money at problems won’t solve them because there are so many more facets to the problems than just lack of money.

    Also, as Jesus himself said, we’ll always have the poor, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. Mark 14:7″

    I don’t think that we will ever end poverty, but I do think we’re still commanded to help and be generous with those who are poor.

  4. JMD says

    Thanks for writing this insightful article. I worked several years with a state program for the poor. Unfortunately the number of persons able or willing to change to stop living the poverty cycle were few and far between.

    I would add that their are individuals that seem to lack motivation for seek or keep employment even when it is secured for them. Why? I don’t really know except it must be easier than going to work on a regular basis. Truly sad and frustrating.

  5. Scott F says

    I have been behind on reading blogs lately. Catching up on this one and find this to be a great article. Thank you for your thoughts. As one who works in an NGO that deals with people in poverty, I agree with many of your statements and for other statements, I love them! :)

    However, money can still have an impact, eventhough it is not the solution. We have people who work 40-50 hours a week mentoring others — teaching them about bank accounts, investing, budgeting, and critical thinking. As much as it is their passion, they need a salary for the needs of their own family. In other words, I hope your readers don’t stop giving to people in need or to those organizations working with people in need, but instead, research the impact it might have and if it is an investment in the person that might have positive returns.

    • says

      Scott,
      Thanks for adding the important reminder that money does have an impact. One think that I wish I’d added to the article is that I plan to keep on giving because through giving is the only way to find the solution. It won’t come by sitting on the sidelines. However, since I didn’t mention it I’m glad you helped highlight that important point.

  6. Peter says

    Religion is not the answer to the eradication poverty. Try taking god and sin out of the equation and then addressing the real problems at hand.

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