Sunday, January 9, 2011

Change How You Think About the Poor!

This is really, really important.  Please listen:
 "[Consider the story of] Creekside Community Church, a predominantly Caucasian congregation made up of young urban professionals in the downtown area of an American city.  Being in the Christmas spirit, Creekside Community Church decided to reach out to the African-American residents of a nearby housing project...
But what could they do to help?  Believing that poverty is primarily a lack of material resources, the members of Creekside Community Church decided to address this poverty by buying Christmas presents for the children in the housing projects.  Church members went door to door, singing Christmas carols and delivering wrapped toys to the children in each apartment....The members of Creekside were moved by the big smiles on the children's faces and were encouraged by the warm reception of the mothers...
After several years, the pastor noticed....enthusiasm was waning...  Finally one member spoke up, "Pastor, we are tired of trying to help these people out...their situation never improves.  Have you ever noticed that there are no men in the apartments when we deliver the toys?  The residents are all unwed mothers who just keep having babies in order to collect bigger and bigger welfare checks.  They don't deserve our help."
In reality, there was a different reason that there were few men in the apartments when the toys were delivered....When the fathers heard the Christmas carols and saw the presents for their kids...they were embarrassed and ran out of the back doors of their apartments....In trying to alleviate material poverty through the giving of these presents, Creekside Community Church increased these fathers' poverty of being.  Ironically, this likely made the fathers even less able to apply for a job, thereby exacerbating the very material poverty that Creekside was trying to solve! (When Helping Hurts)

If you donate money to charities, you need to read this book.
If you have been on a short-term missions trip, you need to read this book.
If you work at Farm Drive with Hillside or the Spanish Ministry with FCC, you need to read this book.
If you have a passion for helping the poor, you must read this book. 
This is an extremely important book.  I can't emphasize that enough! 
I can't tell you how much this book excites me.  It has empowered me.  It has given me answers where I thought there weren't any.
I have written about poverty before.  It is a subject near and dear to my heart.  I grew up in Africa.  I spent nine years volunteering with Friends at Farm Drive and Faithblast Kids' Club in Santa Clarita.  I spent two summers working at Camp May-Mac, for inner-city kids.  Now I live again in Africa, and I am literally surrounded by poverty, right on the other side of my fence.  I have struggled and wrestled and felt guilty when I didn't give and felt guilty when I did give because I didn't want to create dependence.  And I never really knew how really to help. 
Then I read this book over the Christmas break.  And I am in awe. 
The authors asked poor people and not-poor people to define poverty.  Listen to this:
 "Poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness.  North American audiences tend to emphasize a lack of material things such as food, money, clean water, medicine, housing, etc....This mismatch between many outsiders' perceptions of poverty and the perceptions of poor people themselves can have devastating consequences for poverty-alleviation efforts."
Do you get it?  Do you see what they are saying?  When we simply give material things to poor people, it actually makes things worse!  Why?  Because material things are not the answer to their problems (except in emergency situations)!  As illustrated in the story above, material things don't give poor people confidence, security, hope, community, and a voice...which is actually what they need!  All it does is perpetuate their idea that they can't do things themselves, they have to rely on rich white people to do it for them. 
I've only cracked the surface of the richness of this book in this post.  It is powerful; it is life-transforming; it needs to be read by every American Christian.  It takes a biblical worldview and lays it over the problem of poverty, helping us to see it in a completely different light.  It challenges us to think entirely differently about how we go about helping people.  It's not saying we shouldn't give; it just tells us the right way to give. 
"One of the very biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich--their god-complexes--and the poverty of being of the economically poor--their feelings of inferiority and shame."
Please read this book.  Then let me know how it changed your life too. 
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