Poverty 360

By Jeff Palmer, CEO on March 26, 2018 | Print

By most standards, my friend Carlos and his wife Carlita are “poor.” But perhaps most standards are based on the wrong criteria. Instead of wealth or lack thereof being determined by possessions, we might consider defining it in terms of relationships—familial and community.

Bryant Myers concludes in his book, Walking with the Poor that the nature of poverty is fundamentally relational. Poverty is a result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of “shalom” (Hebrew for ‘peace’ or ‘wholeness’) in all its meanings.

The Big Five

The Bible speaks of and references poverty in terms of relationships and their quality. It outlines the five major relationships in which we all live:

  • Within ourselves
  • With community
  • With the “other”
  • With our environment
  • With God

Each of these is impacted throughout our lifetime by the scope of sin. Myers proposes the following diagram as a representation of our relational understanding of poverty:

Central to this relational understanding of poverty is identity. When people don’t know who they are or why they were created they can easily fall into the trap of feeling somehow less than human without the capacity to better themselves or others. proper relationships are nearly impossible to develop, much less maintain, when one’s personal identity is in question.

Sin, Spirituality, and the Center

So what is at the core of this disorientation and injustice in our relationships? For the Christian, the biblical story provides a clear answer—sin. It separates us from God and distorts what is true about ourselves and others. Sin is the root cause of deception, distortion, and domination. When God is on the sidelines or written out of our story, we do not treat each other well.

Given that sin is the fundamental cause of our lack of “shalom,” then there is good news and bad news. The good news is that through Jesus Christ, there is a way out of sin toward transformation. The bad news is that if this news remains unknown or unaccepted, one can become trapped in the chains of self-imposed limitations.

For the Christian development worker, there is an obvious implication. Transformational development cannot occur without the inclusion of the gospel. The manner in which the good news is presented is critical—it must be shared sensitively, appropriately, and non-coercively, but above all, it must be a part of the work we do. Without it, no matter how well-intentioned we may be, all we can offer is a temporary fix when a permanent, inclusive solution is needed.

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