"We believe that poverty is also more than just an issue of wealth. It reaches much wider than this, affecting individuals and whole communities. It includes relational poverty, emotional poverty and spiritual poverty" (Notts Church Urban Fund).
Over the course of the last year I have been made more and more aware of the need in my community, our country, and the world. It all began with reading Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, and has continued with exposure to various articles discussing education and poverty (in America). I would like to think the reason I have been “unaware” of the vastness of need is that I lived out of the country from 2005-2012, working at an international school and somewhat cutoff from media and the real social problems of America. I say, “real” because even though I had a lesser intake of American media, I was still able to be informed of Hollywood’s problems and political crisis, problems of the upper and middle class. But I believe the reality is that I have never really taken the time to be "aware" of the lack of wholeness in the world due to poverty.
I have come to realize is that being informed of the problems of the poor will not just happen through the intake of mainstream media. That doesn’t seem to sell these days. No, awareness of the problems of the poor has to either be shoved in your face by a professor for a class, or be sought out by choice—a choice to use mental space, precious time, and emotional energy to be informed of a way of life that effects approximately 46.5 millions Americans (US Census). World-wide the statistic for those living in poor is between 1.2-1.6 billion (The Atlantic.com). 80% of the world’s populations live on less than $10 a day, the poorest of the poor living on twenty-three cent per day (GlobalIssues.org). The sheer numbers are nearly unfathomable from my middle-class, white, perspective. Why? Because I think life is rough when my family struggles to live on a middle-class American salary. I think that making the sacrifice of income to be a stay at home makes me so in touch with choosing to live without. Yes, I really thought this. And then I started getting schooled on the real needs of the world. And once you get schooled, there is no going back to ignoring the reality of the poor.
But to be honest, I don’t live in a way that I am exposed to poor people, so the numbers are all that I have to work from (This is something that desperately needs to change, because until I actually know those who are poor, the numbers, no matter how great, will likely not propel me forward to meet needs.). Yet, I believe looking at poor from more than a physical condition is important for me be able to also meet the needs of the middle class students that I work with. Experiencing poverty may not only be packaged in the monetary sense. In my life and the lives of others I can see that even the middle and upper class lack resources that lead to destructive behaviors. These may include, emotional poverty, spiritual poverty or relational poverty (Notts Church Urban Fund).
In my experiences working with privileged students and families, I have seen these kinds of poverty lead to brokenness and children growing up without a mindset to help those living in a poverty of wealth. Which is were I see the biggest problem. It seems that because the middle and upper class are too experiencing a kind of poverty that is related to emotions, relationships and spirituality we are still broken and unhappy, and are thus not distributing our wealth and resources to aid in the help of those living in poverty.
Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, in their book, When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor…and yourself, outline the thoughts of Bryant Myers who argues that mending poverty is more complex than a simple equation of giving power where there is lack, or money where there is lack, or knowledge where there is lack. Rather, the at the heart of the issue is broken relationships in a broken world. This premise holds to this foundation of thought, “God designed humans to be a certain thing and to operate in a certain way in all of these relationships: a) Relationship with God, B) Relationship with Self, C) Relationship with Others, and D) Relationship with the Rest of Creation (Corbett & Fikkert). Corbett and Fikkert argue that because these four relationships are the building blocks for all human activity the effects of the “fall” are manifested in the economic, social, religious and political systems. Resulting in the following areas of poverty:
A) Poverty of Spiritual Intimacy – denying God’s existence and authority; materialism; worshipping false gods and spirits
B) Poverty of Being – god complexes; low self-esteem
C) Poverty of Community – self centeredness, exploitation, and abuse of others
D) Poverty of Stewardship – lost of sense of purpose, laziness/workaholics; materialism; ground is cursed
Thus, “poverty is a result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable” (Corbett & Fikkert).
The reason I share all of this is that it is these areas of poverty that are at the root of poverty, and I am a part of this broken, unjust, not-working, not-living for life equation. What saddens me most about this reality of myself is that it is largely a result of lack of exposure and lack of knowledge of what life is like for the majority of people in the world—the poor. How did I manage to squeeze through high school and college and church without being compelled to live out a life that seeks to actually alleviate poverty, the one related to wealth and the others too.
Admittedly, though I did not know of the categories of poverty listed above I do believe I became a teacher to be in relationship with students—to be a positive role model and advocate for them. I believe this aim is rooted in my desire to meet brokenness with healing, more on the level of emotional and relational. However, as I read and learn more I am being awakened to the fact that poverty exists because of a lack of awareness of the poor and a lack of relationship with the poor. And my immediate reaction is that I cannot let me students get through their educational experience without encountering some of what I am encountering now. I wish my first step was to go out and make huge waves to eliminate poverty, but I feel for now I am called to, at the very least, be an administer of information and facilitator of discussions on the needs of those living in poverty. To educate my students on the call we all have to look for those in poverty around us, and the poverty within, and seek out ways to close the gap between living in need and living in wholeness.
As a result, my research writing class is taking on a project that will hopefully start the students on a journey toward being a part of alleviating poverty through increased awareness and the establishment of healthy relationships. I teach at a Christian school, so I have the privilege of approaching need from a Biblical world view and also examining the ideas of Corbett and Fikkert as a part of this process. I too can tie in LaSallian principles and the work of St. John the Baptist de La Salle, whom I believe worked from these principles in an effort to eliminate not just poverty of wealth, but saw education as means to meet the relational, spiritual and emotional needs of those living in poverty. I believe his work demonstrates an understanding the brokenness of the poor wasn’t going to be healed with the giving of money but the equipping of their minds and hearts to be whole emotionally and spiritually, leading to increased stability relationally. And that is what I desire to pass on to my students through this next assignment(Meeting Social Need from a Biblical Worldview), and understanding that needs are not simply met by giving donations, but by helping others to find wholeness so that they do not lack in relationships, or misuse relationships.
Links to all the, Go and See Study, sessions.