What is Your Experience with Poverty?

Not so ninja._digitalpimp._2

Photo Credit: Not so ninja., by digitalpimp., Flickr

Poverty is not a theme I take up frequently in this blog, but it is one that is important to our societies in general and to many individuals at a personal level.

In a previous post, I engaged the topic of Breaking the Cycle of Generational Poverty in the following manner:

While many people experience individual poverty in their lives due to the loss of a job or another tragedy, generational poverty emphasizes patterns where two or more generations continue in poverty within the family structure. Generational poverty is often characterized and reinforced by such causes as limited educational opportunities, poor health or ongoing battle with disease, and an inability to access resources such as land, finances, and information in the pursuit of a sustainable living.

Such a description helps to better understand the experience of poverty, which includes among other things a significant lack of choice. In his book Thriving in the City, T. Aaron Smith highlights this link between poverty and lack of choice.

Poverty and Lack of Choice

Smith notes, “The poor cannot simply will themselves into resources.” While this lack of resources does not guarantee that an individual will stay in poverty, it does guarantee that the poor most often face real and significant (not impossible) barriers along the way.

As I think about engaging such barriers, my personal focus is not primarily on the current political discourse or the role of government. Rather, the focus of my thinking here is on what individuals of faith, and leaders within faith communities, may do to engage such barriers inherent in the experience of poverty.

So what can persons of faith and leaders in faith communities do to help address such barriers?

A helpful place to start is following Jesus in both His heart for the poor and His desire to incarnate among the poor and disenfranchised of our world.

A Heart for the Poor

Consider Luke 4:18-19, a passage that arguably is the very mission statement of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus’ proclamation of good news to the poor arguably includes all of us as those who are poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3)—all of us who need Jesus to set us free from the bondage of sin. But I believe it also includes the literal poor. As I look at the way Jesus approached His earthly life, His words and approach to life demonstrated a heart for both the poor in spirit (all of us!) and the materially and physically poor. Jesus models a heart for the poor.

A Willingness to Live Among the Poor

Not only did Jesus model a heart for the poor, He also modeled a willingness to live among the poor. The very incarnation—Jesus breaking into our world to live among us—is the ultimate picture of this reality. But He also modeled this in specific ways in His seeking out the company of the disenfranchised and marginalized of society.

It is this later theme that takes up the focus of Smith’s book. Here’s the full title of this resource, Thriving in the City: A Guide for Sustainable Incarnational Ministry among the Urban Poor.

Grounding his reflections in the broader example of Jesus’ incarnation, Smith puts most of his energies into writing about practical examples of how living among the poor can help play a role in reducing some of the key barriers discussed above.

Regardless of where you choice to live, the book provides a helpful challenge to see and respond to God’s incarnational heart for the poor. Moving beyond important macro conversations of how multiple sectors can work together to provide economic answers to the challenges of poverty, resources like Smith’s book remind us that we each can choose small steps in helping to engage the needs of the poor through practical and sustainable steps.

Breaking the Cycle of Generational Poverty

Joy, Marwa Morgan, Flickr

Photo Credit: Joy, by Marwa Morgan, Flickr

Generational Poverty

Generational poverty is a real issue in our world. While many people experience individual poverty in their lives due to the loss of a job or another tragedy, generational poverty emphasizes patterns where two or more generations continue in poverty within the family structure. Generational poverty is often characterized and reinforced by such causes as limited educational opportunities, poor health or ongoing battle with disease, and an inability to access resources such as land, finances, and information in the pursuit of a sustainable living.

Leaders are certainly not the only answer to addressing such issues and breaking the cycle of poverty, but leaders are important partners along the way. I’m passionate about training leaders, so I’m particularly drawn toward the conversation of empowering leaders to think intentionally about their role in this vital conversation.

From Nonprofits to Business

Engaging generational poverty is not only a topic for nonprofits, governments, NGOs. It is also a topic worth the engagement of leaders from multiple sectors. Many companies are moving toward corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in an effort to play a part. One global example I’ve especially appreciated comes from the Indian-based Tata Group whose founder believed: “In a free enterprise, the community is not just another stakeholder, but is, in fact, the very purpose of its existence.”

Local Models

Some of the best models I’ve observed are not in large-scale corporate CSR initiatives or multinational NGOs. I certainly value large-scale efforts, but sometimes the models that are most helpful for learning are the smaller and local examples.

So what are effective models for helping to break the cycle of generational poverty?

Here are two I’ll highlight:

A Few Blocks Away…

A few blocks away from where I live, I’ve had the opportunity to see Urban Ventures play a role in breaking the cycle of generational poverty in Minneapolis. Leaders from Urban Ventures often say they do three things in an effort to break the cycle of generational poverty—jobs, families, and education. They orient their programs around job training, support of families, and support of children in their educational development. Through these targeted three areas, Urban Ventures is providing a proactive strategy around which partner organizations like businesses, foundations, churches, and other community groups may come together and break this cycle locally.

To Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti

Generational poverty shows itself internationally as well, often in more stark forms. I have the privilege of working on the board of HCDF (Haiti Christian Development Fund), and through this connection have a front row seat to one of the best models of community development I’ve seen. Inspired by and started out from the community development work of John M. Perkins (founder of the Christian Community Development Association), HCDF launched in 1982 to bring its model of community development to the Fond-des-Blancs region of southern Haiti.

Agricultural Project

HCDF Agricultural Project

With a passion to break the cycle of poverty in Haiti, HCDF has a 30 year history of working to develop and empower the people of Fond-des-Blancs. Through their approach to K-12 education, church-planting, micro-lending, agricultural initiatives, and intentional leadership development, the Fond-des-Blancs community is experiencing transformation.

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What Can I Do?”

So what can you do to help address generational poverty?

First, look around you for organizations like Urban Ventures and HCDF who are actively engaged in holistic models of addressing generational poverty. Partner with these local groups.

L’Exode School

L’Exode School

Second, look beyond your context and be a part of global solutions. HCDF is a powerful example of community development done well. Would you consider a donation to the agricultural, educational, or leadership development work of HCDF as you look to your year end giving? If so, please go to HCDF.org where you may donate online and join me in supporting this important work.