1. Why do you think people are poor?
2. Why would you want to help someone who is poor?
3. What is the difference between material poverty and spiritual poverty?
1. Have you ever tried to give money to someone who was in need? How did it feel? How do you think the other person felt?
2. Do you think the way we choose to give causes others to be shamed, hurt, or offended? How could you find out?
3. What are some ways we can be generous and still help others retain their dignity?
1. So what can we do to bring hope to a poverty stricken neighborhood?
2. Someone said, "Real poverty is partly a result of broken relationships with others, self, society, God and the community." If this is really true, how can you help?
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Does Helping Hurt?
Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert wrote, "Too often acts of charity ignore the real issues and seek to treat the symptom rather than the problem. And in fact make the problem worse. We are motivated to help the poor. We want to pursue a noble cause and feel good about ourselves for doing so. But the danger is that in the process we unintentionally reduce poor people to objects that we use to fulfill our own need to accomplish something."
What does the Bible say?
The following Bible verses are going to seem very contrary to the message of this lesson. As you read each of the various points of view, keep these scripture references in mind. Is it possible that the socialogical view and scriptures stand in contrast to each other. Allow yourself time to think through these issues.
1 John 3:17
Is there really something that separates us?
Jayakumar Christian wrote, "The economically rich often have 'god complexes', a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority in which they believe that they have achieved their wealth through their own efforts and that they have been anointed to decide what is best for low-income people, whom they view as inferior to themselves."
On the other hand research shows that low income people often feel they are inferior to others. If either of these perceptions are actually held it can paralyze the poor from taking initiative and from seizing opportunities to improve their situation, thereby locking them into material poverty.
What is it like to be poor?
After World War II, governments set out to resolve the problem of poverty. The assumption was that material poverty could be easily resolved by providing material relief. This was soon proven wrong. So they did extensive research to determine what to do. They started by asking poor people, "What is poverty?" The answers were compiled and became a book called "Voices of the Poor". Take a few moments to read through the responses.
1. For a poor person, everything is terrible-illness, humiliation, shame. We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us. We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of. (Moldova)
2. When I don't have any food to bring my family, I borrow, mainly from neighbors and friends . I feel ashamed, standing before my children, when I have nothing to help feed the family. I'm not well when I'm unemployed. It's terrible. (Guinea-Bissau)
3. When one is poor, she has no say in public, she feels inferior. She has no food, so there is famine in her house; no clothing, and no progress in her family. (Latvia)
4. The poor have a feeling of powerlessness and an inability to make themselves heard. (Uganda)
5. If you are hungry, you will always be hungry; if you are poor, you will always be poor. (Vietnam)
Relationship + Empowerment =
Several studies have been conducted in many middle to upper class, mostly Caucasian, groups. In the vast majority of cases, these audiences describe poverty differently than the poor. While poor people mention having a lack of material things, they tend to describe their condition in far more psychological and social terms.
Poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation and voicelessness. Wealthy people tend to emphasize a lack of material things such as food, money, clean water, medicine, housing, etc. The mismatch between the two perceptions can have devastating consequences. The problem of poverty goes well beyond the material. The poor face a loss of meaning, purpose and hope.
How we choose to help makes a dramatic impact. Suppose someone comes to you and asks you for money to feed his family. Suppose this person's problem is not a lack of money, but a lack of discipline. By giving him money, you are simply perpetuating the problem. But how are you going to know that if you do not know the person?
A better, but far more sacrifical solution would be for someone to develop a relationship with this person; a relationship that says, "we are here to walk with you and help you use your gifts and abilities to avoid being in this situation in the future. Let us into your life and let us work with you to determine the reason you are in this predicament."
Understand Our Brokenness
So what can we do to bring hope to a poverty stricken neighborhood?
1. First we must revise our understanding of the nature of poverty. We need to see poverty in terms of relationship rather than material goods. It is important to obtain the material goods necessary to sustain life. But real poverty is partly a result of broken relationships with others, self, society, God and the community. Your team's focus should be on building relationships. You may be coming to Philadelphia to do a particular task or conduct a certain activity. But your real purpose is to build relationships and connect with individuals.
2. We must understand brokenness. Brokenness does not discriminate. It comes to everyone. The poor person who cannot feed his family is no less broken than a wealthy doctor who's wife just asked for a divorce. Research shows that the greatest problems facing the middle and upper middle class in North America are divorce, sexual addiction, substance abuse and mental illness. Low income is only one of many symptoms of brokenness. Our message to the poor should be, "I am broken just like you. Let's get through this together." Our goal is to see people restored to what God intended for them to be: people who understand they are created in the image of God with gifts, abilities and capacity to make decisions and to effect change in the world around them; to be good stewards of their lives, community's resources, and relationships, all so that they can bring glory to God.
3. Be humble. By showing the poor through our words actions, and most importantly by listening, that they are people with unique gifts and abilities, we can be part of helping them maintain their sense of dignity. Teach your team members to listen and watch. Watch for the gifts and talents others bring. The person who looks poor may vary well speak three or four languages, may be an accomplished musician or may be an artist or cook or athlete. Don't come to the city to help the poor. Come to the city to learn and grow. Come to share yourself and appreciate what others have to share with you.
We have looked at poverty from many different points of view and have probably found more questions than answers.
- Do wealthy people really make others feel inferior when they give?
- Does giving to others really hurt them?
- Do those who are poor need more than food, shelter, and clothing?
- Couldn't we solve the problem of poverty simply by making more resources available?
- If the Bible says to give to the poor, why is there so much emphasis in this lesson on relationship and empowerment?
- What can I do to help---I mean REALLY help?