That question mark is intentional – poverty is just not as simple as it seems. Growing up in America, it’s easy to see the word poverty and think of people without stuff. Poverty is the state of not having money, food, housing, education…right?
Back up a minute. Each of those are things that everyone needs, but they aren’t ALL someone needs. We all need some stuff, but we also need friends and community. We need dignity and purpose. More than anything, we need God and spiritual intimacy. When we are lacking any of these, we experience poverty.
Material. Social. Personal. Spiritual.
Each is a type of need, and each is a form of poverty. What does that mean to you? It means that poverty doesn’t stay far away in Africa or India. It doesn’t reach only as close as the homeless man downtown. Poverty is probably much closer than you think. Ask yourself, “am I living in poverty?” If you don’t limit your answer to material poverty, but you consider all four types, then the answer might surprise you. How many people around you seem to have it made, but exist in a state of spiritual poverty? How many have no sense of purpose, or dignity, or community?
In trying to answer these questions, it’s easy to see that the types of need are not black and white, in or out. That’s our next challenge: defining who is in poverty. The side of material poverty is probably the easiest to examine. If you see someone who lives in a concrete room, shares an outhouse with a dozen other families, only has a few pairs of clothes, eats the same meals almost every day, and can’t even think about having a car, what do you think? If you are like most Americans, your poverty radar lights up.
I spent time with many Kenyans in this exact situation who would be offended if you told them they lived in poverty. They would say, “I have everything I need!” One friend of mine has an incredible relationship with the Lord, a family that he invests deeply in, children who attend school, a calling to help others around him, and friends to share every part of life with. He doesn’t make a lot of money, but his one-room house is impeccably clean and his three sets of clothes are always neat. He doesn’t have a car, but he doesn’t need one. He doesn’t go out to movies in Nairobi, but he doesn’t needto. He has everything he needs, and he is happy.
Many of the clients we work with have poverty in all of the four areas. They are physically and emotionally broken, spiritually downtrodden, socially outcast, and materially destitute. We can’t just give them money. We can’t just give them medicine, work, or community. We can’t JUST give them Jesus. They need help in each area. We’re working on that.
Maybe the people in your neighborhood only have poverty in one or two of the four areas. They need something too. Though their lives might look a whole lot different than a CFA client in Kenya, neither one is complete. The guy in your neighborhood isn’t free from poverty either, but you can do something about that!
Poverty? It’s worth a second thought…
Note: many of these ideas, especially those concerning types of poverty, are based on the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Find ithere