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A Christian Response to Poverty
by Jonas Borntreger
11/04/07
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A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO POVERTY

I find myself annoyed by rhetoric that indicates that poverty could be eliminated, if only rich people would throw some of their wealth to the poor. A lot of the rumbling sounds like a commercial for political activism: “We don’t have a right to live like we do while around the world people are starving; our government should do something about it.” This mentality is especially concerning to me when my Christian brothers and sisters offer up this dogma as an honest response to obedience for ‘loving our neighbor as ourselves.’

I am convinced that significantly impacting world poverty is not a matter of just moving money from one coffer to another. I am especially dismayed at the lack of results, or often, negative results that government has historically had when running such programs. It seems that often the underlying reasons for poverty are not addressed and providing financial aid only leads to greater dependency, instead of less so.

One of the most eye-opening experiences of my life happened on a mountain on the west edge of El Paso, Texas. I stood on that mountain and looked over the Rio Grande Valley. At El Paso the Rio Grande is actually not all that ‘grande,’ but oh, the difference that ditch makes as it flows through that valley. I stood on that mountain; the sun went down behind me, a full moon rose before me, and the lights came on in the valley below.

I started asking questions.

Why is there this very obvious discrepancy between the two sides of the ditch? Does one side get more rain or sunshine? Is the soil better on one side than the other? Does one side have access to better materials for creating buildings? Does the wind that blows for good blow for evil on the opposite shore? Why does the murky haze I see to the south end abruptly at the Rio?

The answers became obvious: The only differences are ideological. The only real differences are in the way people see themselves, their neighbors, and the world around them; the way they act, and interact with each other; it lies in the how, and the why of the choices they make. If there was a chance that money flowing south would have made a significant difference in the Rio Grande Valley, then that little ditch, flowing between two cities would not have been able to prevent it from happening.

At this point you may be wondering if I am against sharing of financial resources. The answer is no. For me there are, however, some guidelines which seem appropriate.

First is the ‘Caesar or God’ principle. If your finances go through the government coffers, the resulting perceived benefits will result in recognition for your government. Gifts in obedience to Christ are a “light that shines before men” and causes the recipients to “glorify our Father in Heaven.”

Secondly, we need to give more than money. The Good Samaritan got dirt and blood on his robes. He got down where the need was and addressed the basics of a man’s suffering. If poverty’s cause is ideological then true help means changing what people do and what or why they do them. This is hard to accomplish from 5,000 miles away. Loving people involves intimacy; it is more than the good feeling that comes because the check is in the mail. Your treasure and your heart will be in the same place; give from the heart.

Thirdly: Leverage efficiency for your gift. It’s the ‘give a man a fish’ principle. Avoid programs that foster dependency. Give a seed; share ideas, recipes and expertise; help finance micro loans; and patronize or build businesses that give people a means for making a living.

My final thought about giving should be obvious for the Christian: Give in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Did that TV commercial make you feel guilty or was it a prompt from Jesus? How do you know to give to the man standing on the street corner or not? Christians should give cheerfully and never because they feel browbeat into it.

Christians in the western world have been blest with tremendous wealth and a shrinking world. If we see a ‘brother in need’ we don’t ‘shut up our bowels.’ Someone once said, “You can give without loving, you can’t love without giving.” Let’s help each other, and make sure that our gifting, in the long run, actually accomplishes what we intend, and that it builds the kingdom of God.

Jonas J. Borntreger
© Nov. 2007 JJB


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