I was greatly encouraged to be included in a recent meeting in Spruce Pine with local pastors, community organization leaders and NC Senator Ralph Hise, to discuss the challenges and opportunities related to poverty and its alleviation in the area.
Communities must reengage in this issue, with local expressions of faith leading the way, and re-educate ourselves as to the truth of poverty and then collaborate together to see it broken from our lives. Communities survive because members are willingly attached to one another and desirous of seeing everyone move forward to a thriving life that accurately reflects the original intent and design of God for His creation.
Poverty-it’s all over the news, locally and nationally. It is tearing at the fabric of our society, like an ever-growing B movie monster, who is a ‘taker’, feeding on the ‘giving’ of our charity, never finding satisfaction and oblivious to the damage of communities left in its destructive wake. Most communities don’t care for this Monster and yet, simultaneously feel responsibility for its existence so they routinely supply it with local goods and kindness.
How would you personally define poverty? Generally it is considered as the lack of basic essentials needed for life. Physical needs are clearly in mind. Our society, including the vast number of local houses of religion, uses this definition consistently and responds with charitable efforts to meet such basic needs.
While this common sense approach to poverty certainly meets some needs, a simple question remains: Is poverty being eliminated? Are lives being transformed or simply impacted? Are the poor actually being lifted to a thriving life by such actions? If we are honest, we must say soundly that the answer is no, since it does not impact all areas of a person’s life or our community at large.
So, a broader view of poverty is required. Let’s think together on this issue: if basic physical essentials are not the fullness of poverty, then what else could it be?
Is it possible to have adequate basic essentials and yet be poor?
In answer to that valid question, the Bible both states and asks, ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?’ This then broadens poverty to include a broken relationship with God, our Creator. How can a life be well lived without any thought or adherence to the fact that a loving God gave us this life and intended it to be done with Him successfully? Successfully?
Connected directly to this is the fact of broken relationships with ourselves, that of not seeing or valuing ourselves as God does. This means that our image of ourselves has been marred so thoroughly that our self-estimations are out of alignment, resulting in our poorness. The Bible clearly states that as a man thinks, so is he.
If we ourselves are broken, then our relationships with others around us are certainly broken as well. How can we truly love others if we don’t love ourselves as God intended? The Scriptures teach us that we are to ‘love God with all our hearts … and our neighbors as ourselves.’ Without this reciprocal valuing of our neighbors, life becomes isolated. Each person in our communities represents an asset, a resource, for the purpose of us all having an abundant life.
I recently drove through your community, viewing with awe the natural beauty that you are so blessed with. And then, around the bend, came one after another stark reminders that humans are near. Every community has its blighted environments and living areas with trash piles, junk cars, abandoned property and such.
So poverty is also a broken relationship with our environment.
So let’s now summarize this expanded definition of poverty:
Poverty is a broken relationship with God Almighty, a broken relationship with self, a broken relationship with others, and a broken relationship with our environment. It’s in that order, end of story. Let’s face it; poverty is a wholistic condition affecting all areas of our being and community. A wholistic poverty requires a wholistic cure. Without it, poverty continues and deepens, despite the billions of local and federal funds given in an attempt to alleviate it.
Many in your community are not only aware of the truths mentioned here but also are actively pursuing collaborative ways of addressing poverty. When people are right with God, self, others and environments, everyone wins. Life and love for it are restored, with neighbor caring for neighbor. Hate, crime, loss, depression, unemployment or underemployment, and addictions are alleviated. Handouts are replaced with hand ups, empowering and encouraging all of us to make our lives count and find a greater joy in living!
Rev. Keith Holloway
Senior Director of World Poverty Solutions