What Can I Do about Poverty?
Poverty simply defined according to Merriam-Webster as “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions”. We’ve all encountered poverty in one way or another; whether directly in our own family, with a loved one, driving through a city, or even seen in news outlets or social media.
I was on a mission’s trip in New York City a couple summers ago and was sitting in Grand Central Station. A girl about my age came up and sat down next to me and we struck up a conversation, her telling me she was headed to her boyfriend’s home for the remainder of the summer and me explaining what I was doing in NYC with my church. As my time to leave was coming I asked her if there was anything I could pray for her. She didn’t think long before asking prayer for poverty to end. I ask if she was involved in an organization or group helping to find solutions, but she wasn’t. It was just an injustice she saw in the world, knew was a problem, and figured maybe prayer would be a temporary band aid until a solution was found.
Poverty is one of those things that we know is a problem. We feel anger when we see tragic pictures of little one’s bellies protruding. We feel uncomfortable without a solution so we cross to the other side of the street to avoiding passing people begging. We all are probably like that girl in the train station who cares but if we’re honest we don’t really know the solution because of the scale.
It’s estimated that in 2015, in the United States alone, 43.1 million people lived in poverty. 1 Worldwide though that number is closer to 3 billion people who live on less than $2.50 per day. 2 The poverty cycle unfortunately is something that is difficult to break for those captive by it.
“The effects of poverty are cyclical. Malnutrition affects health. Health and malnutrition affect education. Education affects occupation, which affects income, which affects the level of poverty. The side effects of this recycled poverty include crime, violence, apathy, and all the other social problems associated with being poor” (Grunlan 193–94).3
With the recent election of President Donald Trump CNN released a story from America’s poorest white town of Beattyville, Kentucky. This town is hopeful that Trump will come alongside them, keep his promises, and help them get back on their feet to allow them a chance to succeed. Trump is able to help in certain ways, but when I hear stories like that I think there has got to be something that I can do too right? 4
The question is though what can I actually do?
First as a Christian I need to be educated about what God commands of me in response to poverty. Proverbs 21:13 says, “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.” Jesus reminds us how serious the issue is again in Matthew 25:45 when He says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
It’s evident that as a Christian I am called to do my part. While I cannot personally end poverty around the world I can pray for those in poverty, I can make a difference for one person, or I can even partner with incredible organizations already working.
Second I believe we need to get in on the action of people around us already working. Locally or globally it doesn’t matter, we just need to be obedient to where God calls us. How much stronger we could be together if we all listened to what God wanted us to do.
Locally there are food and clothing banks that help those in poverty in your very own community. A quick google search can help you find ways to serve people in your own backyards. Our children’s ministry in our church yearly partners with a local food bank and when we told our kids that we were bringing in canned goods and other items to help kids who go to their schools they were shocked. Our kids didn’t realize that peers that they see every day at school go home and don’t get endless snacks from the cupboard before dinner. Eyes were opened that we didn’t have to go across the world to a village to help people in poverty but we could help those we see every day.
Compassion International is one of the larger, well-known organizations whose mission is to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name. This organization is in 26 countries around the world helping break the cycle of poverty for 100,000s of children, with the help of sponsors. They have a child-advocacy ministry that pairs compassionate people with those who are suffering from poverty to release children from spiritual, economic, social, and physical poverty so they grow into responsible and fulfilled adults.
HOPE International is an organization making progress around the world to invest in the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities as they proclaim and live the Gospel. They take a holistic approach in obedience to Christ’s command to love our neighbor and make disciples of all nations. HOPE is currently in 16 countries and provides discipleship opportunities, training, a safe place to save, and small loans to launch or expand their businesses.
I had the privilege of traveling to the Dominican Republic with HOPE International in 2014. I toured schools in low income areas, visited remote villages, and met incredible men and women who have successfully gotten out of poverty and are in turn helping others. One of my favorite stories was a woman named Bienvenida who was cooking chicken on the side of the road earning about $5 a day to support her family of 6. With the help of a micro-loan of $200 she was able to grow her business to selling over 100 lbs. of chicken daily and has paid back all the money borrowed. She now employs those in her village and her family can attend school, afford food, and have access to medical attention if needed.
The trip was eye opening for me that jumping into a culture struggling with poverty should not be fixed by just throwing money at them. The old adage is true: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Sure money is definitely helpful to provide resources and trainings, but organizations like HOPE and Compassion and the countless others are equipping and empowering these people for success to break the poverty cycle and not teeter back and forth on the edge for their lifetime. I think we each are called to play a part no matter how small to help break people out of the poverty cycle one at a time.
1 “Poverty Facts.” Poverty Rate, Poverty Thresholds & Census Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.
2 “Causes of Poverty.” Causes of Poverty — Global Issues. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.
3 Grunlan, Stephen, ed. Christian Perspectives on Sociology: Reprint edition. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2001. Print.
4 “Can Trump win the war on poverty? — CNN Video.” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.