The Money Trap
Money. We all need it. If we don’t have it- what is that?
That’s Poverty. We’ve seen it everywhere. Perhaps you’ve even classified as one of the 45 million Americans who haven’t had much to eat this week, the ones who fall below the line of poverty. Or let’s look at just Pennsylvania- I’m from there. How many poverty stricken people are there out of the 12,000,000 Pennsylvanians? 1,600,200. That’s a lot of people. And that’s in a place where 45% of all adults achieve higher education. Yes, that’s less than half, but that’s almost half. Take a look at Ethiopia- where 44% of the entire population is below the poverty level. Also, almost half! Poverty is a serious affliction. It’s hard to crawl up from below poverty level. You need a sponsor, you need a job, support, opportunity. Things that are easy to come by in rural, religious Pennsylvania. Not things that are easy to find in places like Ethiopia.
If money were the only problem, the entire issue of poverty would be so much easier to combat. Let’s look at the family structure and how that is affected by poverty. Interestingly, the most likely demographic to enter in to poverty (it is much easier to enter a state of poverty than it is to exit a state of poverty.) are the unmarried couples. Most specifically, it’s the Unmarried first-time mothers who face a great risk of poverty. Women who had their first birth outside marriage are statistically more likely to live below the poverty line (30.1 percent vs. married first-time mothers- 8.4 percent).
And get this, not only are unmarried single mothers most likely to fall below the poverty line, they are likely to be even as much as 180 percent below the poverty line (with the likeliness of married first-time mothers being 20 percent). The relationships between out-of-wedlock first birth and the three measures of poverty were all statistically significant and held for all racial groups. Another interesting finding from familyfacts.org was related to men who become fathers outside of marriage and their likeliness to be poor! Though the risk of poverty varied regarding age at which the fathers had their children, these unwed fathers are 70 percent to 90 percent more likely to be poor in comparison to the men who did not have children prior to marriage.
So the demographic that is most affected by the claws of poverty are the unwed parents, right?
Children. The children of single fathers and mothers are the most affected by poverty. They need stability and proper nutrition and education to develop correctly, but instead are left wanting all these things because the theme of unmarried parents draws the whole broken family unity into poverty.
And it only continues to spiral downward from that point- poverty leads to needs going unmet, and needs must be met. Enter theft. Enter gangs, perhaps. Enter crime and illegal activity. An ensnaring cycle. Crime is not typically a single occurrence in a family, but has been shown to become a family pattern. When a parent sets an example due to necessity, children learn to emulate the example they know best and can easily adopt the harmful relationship patterns established by their parents. Poverty doesn’t end at the parents. Because children follow the examples of the adult relationships they are exposed to, outlooks on crime, poverty, malignant behavior, lying, and so on, establishes a multigenerational heritage and poverty and its’ accompanying vices become a reoccurring event in families.
This rise in poverty has negatively impacted the population by further damaging the family structure and contributing to higher rates of “early school dropout, teenage pregnancies [and parenting], and general juvenile delinquency (Berlin, 2014).” These increases in such behavior have become a detrimental force in society.
So, enter the missionary with money and tidings of a kind God and candy for the children and blankets and soccer balls and bandaids! This liberates the parents from a place of unsteadiness long enough for them to get their feet under them, apply for a job, and get a paycheck rolling so they can be self-sustaining and escape the grasp of poverty and raise brilliant and healthy children who grow up to cure cancer and mastermind a plan to pay back America’s debt to China! Right?
Not even close. Consider the detriment of these handouts to the impoverished. Cross off the happy ending that comes with the missionary handing out dollars and candy and pause with me for a moment.
First off, let me establish that as a Christian, my heart breaks for the children who go to sleep with empty tummies, for the mothers who are sick because they give up what they need because their child needs it too, for the older sisters who stand in as mothers, and for the men who rely on burglary and theft to be able to eat. I love these people and want to see them succeed and not be hungry or cold. God explicitly tells us to love those who need us many times in Scripture:
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy
— Proverbs 31:8–9
Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.
— Proverbs 22:22–23
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you” — when you already have it with you.
— Proverbs 3:27–28
Let me also establish that I have felt poverty. I have seen poverty. My childhood was rich because of love, but not because of enough food or nice toys or cute clothes. Crackers have been my dinner before, and I wish that upon nobody. We were already fairly poor when a hurricane hit my house (at least we had a house. That’s better than many.) when I was five, and my home was destroyed. I remember the river running through our house. We left everything, and never went back. Our church put us up in a hotel for a week. Outside our hotel window, there was a shanty town- people who build homes out of wood and tin and rocks. I was only five, and couldn’t understand why no one was taking care of the people out there. There were kids just like me looking up at me from the window. I knew nothing outside poor, but these poor children living in mud will stick in my mind for the rest of my life. These were hungry kids with no home, children with no parents and not much food. And it is so hard for these people to break out of that system.
My parents had help and they broke the cycle of poverty and my younger siblings now grow up with plenty of food, the coolest toys, and name-brand clothes. And I never thought about college as a kid, but if I had, I never would have thought it possible. But here I am. A poor girl who grew up on crackers and salad and never had a brand-new piece of clothing in her life until she was twelve, a successful hairdresser, car-owner, and senior in a top notch degree program at a private Bible college! So please don’t consider me unfeeling toward poverty as I go on, because that is not the case.
As a Christian who serves a God who loves the hurting, and as a former poor child, I say, do away with missions’ trips. Do away with collecting money and candy in your church and going to Ethiopia and giving all these good gifts with a healthy dose of the Gospel. Don’t do any of that. As heartbreaking as it is to see a hungry person, handing them five dollars and candy is not going to help them. They will be hungry again and looking for the nest kind soul to feed them their next snack. They become trapped in a cycle of handouts and look to the missions’ trip teams to ease their lives for a week. The UK metro explicitly talks about how the poverty stricken and homeless will too commonly spend their beggars’ wages on drugs. In fact, I’ve lived in London and they tell you to not to bother with giving them cash, because the UK has established a system that allows for anyone to be able to do jobs at businesses for a free meal or even lodging. Not a single person homeless needs to be homeless and begging in London, yet there are an abundance of beggars because tourists don’t know they economic system allows for people to easily eat and be comfortable.
We are not helping the poor when we give them our money. Instead of spending the $2000 for a ten day missions’ trip, we should use that $2000 to buy a village goats and chickens and send a teacher to show them how to care for the animals, breed them, sell them, make a living, earn themselves a meaning and significance. Build up the community. Instead of handing money to homeless people, become their friend. Encourage them, but don’t hand over cash because it doesn’t solve the problem, it just prolongs the solution. Invite them to come organize your garage in exchange for and warm meal and a warm place to stay. Give them ways to ascend the ladder of the economic system until they are on their own feet and self-reliant. I’ll leave you with one way to truly touch these poor people. The Samaritan’s Purse. This ministry gives goats and chickens to villages and teaches them how to fish and butcher and breed animals. Sets villages up with their own economy. Gives them tools.
The poor don’t need your money or candy, or for you to visit them for ten days and tell them about the Gospel (You know what I mean). They need support and the opportunity to earn their rewards. What a privilege and a calling!
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright 2002, 2007, 2011, 2016, by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.