What Is Poverty?

December 6, 2018

The Chalmers Center recently addressed the question, "what is poverty?," and had this to say:


"...how do we define poverty?"  Is it a lack of food, money, clean water, medicine or housing?  When we see those in poverty, "we often try to help people by giving them stuff.  It makes sense, right?  If someone doesn't have enough food, we should give them food.  But the reality is a little more complex."


The way that we act toward the economically poor often communicates

- albeit unintentionally - that we are superiors and they are inferior. 

In the process, we hurt the poor and ourselves.

-- When Helping Hurts


"On the surface, it seems like poverty is just about lacking stuff.  But when you ask people who are poor to define poverty, they often talk more about how they feel: humiliated, ashamed, alone, afraid and powerless.


When we only focus on giving people stuff that we think they lack, it doesn't address these feelings of shame, inferiority, and powerlessness.  In fact, sometimes giving people things can actually make those feelings worse!


Think about it:  If you were struggling, how would you feel if someone swooped in and provided for your family?  You might find it helpful in the short term, but eventually, it could make you feel powerless.


When we only define poverty as a lack of stuff, we often treat the symptoms instead of the underlying causes.  Until we change our understanding of poverty, any help we offer has the potential to do more harm than good."


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.

-- Voices of the Poor


We cannot afford to invite anyone to our house and we feel uncomfortable visiting others without bringing a present. The lack of contact leaves one feeling depressed, creates a constant feeling of unhappiness, and a sense of low-self esteem.

-- Voices of the Poor


"The truth is, we're all poor - everyone!  We're all in need because we all experience brokenness in four fundamental relationships:  

1.  Our relationship with God

2.  Our relationship with self

3.  Our relationship with others

4.  Our relationship with creation


Because of the Fall, sin entered the world, and all four of these key relationships were broken.  Our intimacy with God was replaced with a fear of God.  Our relationship with self went from a sense of dignity to feelings of shame.  Our relationship with others went from community to conflict.  And our relationship with creation went from joyful work to toilsome labor.  


Everyone suffers the effects of these broken relationships.  So, we're all poor in the sense that we don't experience these relationships the way God intended.  This brokenness doesn't look the same across the world.  But, we all share the same desperate need for Christ, who offers hope that what is broken - both inside us and around us - will be restored."


Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable.  Poverty is the absense of shalom in all its meanings.

-- Bryant L. Meyers, Walking with the Poor



"Helping the poor is about reconciling the broken relationships at the root of poverty.  It means taking the hungry person by the hand and saying, "I'm hungry, too. But I've found the Bread of Life [Jesus Christ]. He can provide the lasting help that you and I both need."


So, where do we go from here? 


Well, we encourage you to check out the resources available to you by The Chalmers Center


 We'd also love for you to get more involved in The Mercy Ministries' Mercy University classes, which are open to the community in and around Toombs County, Georgia, for just $20 per person (or $10 each for duos who want to take the class together as a "couple").


MU Faith & Finance classes and Work Life classes begin again January 2019. 

Contact Clint Hutcheson via email Clint@TheMercyMinistries.org

or call 912-524-4000 Mon - Thurs

for more info on how to be a part of a 2019 class!

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