Archives For Poverty

firstworldproblemsAs my wife and I tried to get our girls to bed tonight (just moments ago as I’m writing this), we had a major meltdown. The reason? Both girls got clean sheets on their beds tonight. Our four year old didn’t get the dancing girl sheets she wanted and had to settle for the lady bug sheets. Our two year old didn’t get the lady bug sheets she wanted and had to settle for the dancing girl sheets. So, super rational.

It put a halt to our routine as we tried to shepherd our daughters’ hearts. In the process I made myself cry. I began to tell my older daughter about kids going to bed this very night who have no sheets to crawl into. I told her about her mommy and I going down to Mexico before she was born and building plywood homes for entire families. The families were bigger than ours; the homes were smaller than her bedroom. I told her how there was no paint, no pictures, no carpet. A dirt floor. As I told her this, I couldn’t stop the tears.

There was an element of pity in those tears, certainly. But they were also tears of repentance. Because I started telling her how happy those families were to receive their new homes. I told her how the little girls weren’t sad about their sheets or the size of their home. They were happy little girls. Truly. Jesus loved them and their families loved them too. Working in Mexico, as we’ve done several times, we saw joy in people over whom materialism had far less power. We renounced materialism on those trips and vowed to live joyful lives. Then we went back to having more than anyone could need and settled in once again.

An idol was exposed in my daughters’ hearts tonight. Sure, bed sheets are an odd idol, but our girls’ desire to have their world ordered just so came to the surface. This was a wonderful night because we got to discuss incredibly important issues: the way the world works and the importance of the heart.

firstworldbananaproblemsWe tucked our girls into bed and I started thinking about #firstworldproblems. How silly our materialistic society can be. We announce to our friends and followers:

  • “What is the point of a cellphone if the battery only lasts for 6 hours? #firstworldproblems”
  • “It’s too hot to sleep with a blanket, but I can’t sleep without one! #firstworldproblems”
  • “My towel was already damp when I got out of the shower. #firstworldproblems”

My conversation with my daughter reminded me that #firstworldproblems is more than a joke. Now, I believe it is a joke, and a hilarious one. One step in solving the problem is recognizing how ridiculous these moments of frustration actually are. So we should laugh at ourselves. And yet the idolatry that these moments reveal is serious. It needs to be addressed, not just tweeted.

It’s ridiculous that my daughter cried for her dancing girl sheets. It’s also ridiculous that forgetting my iPhone at home is a serious concern, a tweetable offense (#firstworldproblems).

Tonight, my wife and I are thankful that we got an opportunity to begin weeding out some idolatry in our daughters’ hearts. We’re also thankful that it reminded us about the idolatry in our own. And somehow, I can’t imagine God viewing my impatience with a slow waiter or my insecurity about the car I drive or my disapproval over my neighbor’s rarely-watered lawn as any less absurd, irrational, insane, childish, nonsensical. An idol is an idol, and for God’s glory, it has to go.

 

How do you reach an impoverished neighborhood with the gospel?

A typical approach is to send in money occasionally. But poverty is actually far more complex than most people imagine. It takes on a variety of forms, and it stems from impossibly deep-seated assumptions, systems, and processes. It’s actually a huge misunderstanding of the problem to assume that poverty is primarily financial. Financial poverty is deeply connected to and very often caused by other forms of poverty, such as relational poverty and spiritual poverty.

La Luz 1So if you truly want to reach an impoverished neighborhood with the gospel, you have to first take stock of what kind of poverty has taken hold. And you need to be ready to respond—not just financially, but holistically. If you find relational poverty, are you prepared to offer yourself so that their relationships can be enriched? So that these human beings can see their value as human beings? So that you can learn to appreciate everything they have to offer each other and the surrounding society that views them as lazy and disgraced? Are you prepared to enter into their spiritual poverty and show them (not just tell them) the depths of the riches available to them in Christ?

It’s the depth and complexity of the problem and the high non-financial cost of truly addressing these needs that ensures poverty will remain around the world.

My geographical area is affluent. Everyone around me has more than they need. Way more. And yet there are pockets where poverty has an iron grip. In one of these pockets, in one particular neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, the people are what you’d call “working poor.” They have jobs, and they work hard. Yet their wages do nothing to bring them above the poverty line. This kind of poverty can’t be eradicated by telling the people to work harder, or even by sending in money. It requires incarnation.

When Jesus wanted to help human beings who were trapped in their cycle of need and deep-seated spiritual poverty, he did more than send us a message of hope. He did more than sending us laws or even forgiveness. He sent himself. He entered into our mess so that he could lead us out of it. Personally. Profoundly. We call this the “incarnation”—God took on flesh.

La Luz 2One of the churches that Eternity Bible College partners with is incarnating the gospel in this particular impoverished neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. They’re not inviting these people to join them for their suburban church services. They’re not sending in money or work crews. The leaders of this church moved into the neighborhood. Incarnation. The life of the working poor has become the life of these church planters. Church is in the neighborhood. The gospel is in the neighborhood. The gospel is not foreign, coming in from the outside. With this team of church planters, the gospel took on flesh and dwelt among the working poor.

This church will soon be hosting an event that is a great example of this approach. The church is called Living Stones/Piedras Vivas (the church is bilingual because the neighborhood is bilingual—incarnation), and the event is called La Luz. And there’s a way you can help them with it. One way that the church wants to help the poverty in the neighborhood is by providing the children of these working poor parents with the opportunity to play soccer. The local parks and rec department has had to raise its fees for soccer. This instantly excludes many of the neighborhood children from organized soccer, which means instantly increased relational poverty.

So Living Stones is doing two things to address this need. First, they are putting on a week-long soccer clinic for the neighborhood kids, taught by Division I collegiate coaches and players. This clinic will also give them opportunities for displaying and sharing the gospel, thus addressing the spiritual poverty. Second, they are raising money to give 100 scholarships to neighborhood kids so they can play in the soccer league. Members of Living Stones and their kids have been investing in this soccer league by playing and coaching, so allowing more neighborhood kids to participate is a means of addressing their needs on a number of levels.

To learn more about this event or to invest financially, click here. For more fundraising opportunities, click here.

Those of us who are living and serving in more affluent suburban contexts have a lot to learn about incarnation from churches like Living Stones. It may not mean hosting soccer clinics or offering scholarships (though it may). The important thing is that we deeply consider how to present the gospel in a clear way to the people God has placed around us. How do we portray the gospel with our lives, and not merely with our words?

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries

Abercrombie & Fitch refuses to make women’s clothes in XL and XXL sizes. Why? In the words of Abercrombie CEO Michael Jeffries:

“Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends…A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong.” (Read a recent article about this here.)

Whoops. Of course, the company can target any demographic it wants to. No big deal. But that’s a pretty sleazy thing to say (Abercrombie’s overall image does nothing to soften the sleaze), and it’s caused a bit of an uproar. Jeffries actually made this statement in 2006, but his words have been passed around with greater intensity recently, and a backlash is forming.

A video recently came out in which USC graduate Greg Karper calls the world to rebrand Abercrombie’s clothes. In the video, he explains that many companies will donate their defective or unsold clothes to the poor, but Abercrombie burns them so as to preserve its cool-kid-only image.

Karper’s proposed rebrand involves gathering up Abercrombie clothes and giving them to the homeless. “Together,” he says, “we can make Abercrombie & Fitch the world’s number one brand of homeless apparel.”

I’ll be honest, I find the video hilarious and clever. And there’s a sense of poetic justice to the whole thing. But in reality, Karper’s idea is a pretty awful. On the one hand, he wants to give clothes to the homeless. So it sticks it to Abercrombie, and it also helps the poor. Okay.

Don't Fitch the HomelessBut on the other hand, he’s advocating giving the clothes to the homeless because he wants to embarrass Abercrombie. In essence, Karper’s strategy validates Abercrombie’s assessment of the homeless: they’re gross. Abercrombie doesn’t want ugly people in its clothes? We’ll show them! We’ll clothe these nasty homeless people with their cool-kid-clothes.

Plus it’s one more way to further alienate the homeless. Let’s stand against this brand by getting homeless people to wear it! Rather than standing together with them, coming alongside them in their pain and alienation, this strategy uses them to poke fun at Abercrombie. And anytime you find yourself using people, you know you’ve taken a misstep somewhere.

It’s one thing to point out the sleazy nature of Jeffries’ statement. Or to choose to buy a different brand of clothes. But to manipulate a marginalized group of people in order to make your point is itself a bit, well, sleazy.

I mentioned before that our book of the month feature wasn’t necessarily going to be a monthly feature. I wasn’t lying. We’ll just post about great books we’ve read whenever we feel like passing them on to you.

This “month” I want to recommend When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert. You might think that this book is only directed at people who are ambitiously trying to end world hunger, but the reality is that this book is a must read for every Christian. If you’ve ever gone on a short term mission trip, this book is for you. If you’ve ever donated money to a ministry that reaches out to the underprivileged, this book is for you. If you’ve ever felt any degree of compassion for those who are suffering…well, you guessed it.

Though North American Christians often try to live as though there were no major problems in the world, poverty is a huge problem, both overseas and in our own neighborhoods. Corbett and Fikkert convincingly argue that very often, our efforts to help those who are impoverished show our ignorance regarding the issues involved and the solutions that would truly help these people. Because of this, our efforts to help often hurt both ourselves and the poor people we are reaching out to. We hurt the people we are trying to help by making them dependent on us financially, making them feel inadequate or dehumanized, and/or removing any opportunity they have to work towards a solution to their own problems. We hurt ourselves by fostering our pride and sense of superiority when we swoop in like superman to save the day.

Their book explores the nature of poverty, the problems and systems that cause it, and the right way to think about help those who are hurting. This doesn’t mean that we leave the materially poor to solve their own problems. It means that we get actively involved in correctly diagnosing the situation and offering solutions that include the impoverished in their own relief.

I’ll highlight three profound observations that Corbett and Fikker offer, observations which have completely changed the way I think about helping those who are hurting.

The first observation is that an “asset-based” approach to addressing poverty is better than a “needs-based” approach. In a needs-based approach, we go to the affected person or area, figure out what they need, then provide it, donate it, or build it. In an asset-based approach, however, we start by finding out what the affected community has to offer. What skills, knowledge, and systems do they bring to the table that can help them address the crisis using their own resources? This is an infinitely better approach because in addition to solving the immediate problem, it also gives those who are hurting affirmation and ownership over their ability to do what needs to be done.

The second observation is an insightful distinction that Corbett and Fikkert make between relief, rehabilitation, development. We tend to think of poverty as poverty, so we respond to it all the same. But they argue that not all poverty is created equal. Some situations (such as the aftermath of hurricane Katrina) require relief. Something needs to be done immediately, and often it will entail providing money, counseling, and building materials. Rehabilitation comes when the initial crisis is over, but the community needs to rebuild to get back to where they were before. Development comes when the infrastructure of a country needs long term work to improve the overall quality of life. The problem is that North Americans tend to treat all poverty through relief strategies, and providing this type of aid typically cripples rehabilitation and development.

The final observation comes through the way they define poverty. Material poverty is what usually comes to mind when we hear about poverty, but Corbett and Fikkert identify poverty in four fundamental relationships: with God, with our fellow man, with ourselves, and with the rest of creation. When these relationships are not working properly, we are impoverished. For this reason, middle to upper class North Americans are some of the most impoverished people on the planet. Often a poverty of relationship leads to material poverty, but the most important issue to address is the poverty of relationship.

If you choose to read this book, I can pretty much guarantee that it will be a game changer in terms of the way you view poverty alleviation, short term mission trips, and the nature of poverty itself.

Buy it through our Amazon store: