After I finished undergraduate studies I wanted to become an expert in the philosophical and sociological changes from modernism. Dr. Mike Pabarcus, a teacher, mentor and friend made a statement and asked one big question that went something like this. “Jared, other people will figure out philosophical and cultural shifts and how it will affect people and the church. Who will work with the poor?” Long story short, grad school, prayer ministry, reading the gospels and visiting Congo changed my answer.
Before we can help others escape poverty rooted in personality, circumstance or institutional oppression, we need to be very aware of ourselves and realize our own deficits. Everyone has multiple means of addressing poverty: no matter our background we can look at our own areas of broken relationships and the broken relationships and people around us and decide to be proactive. This entry looks at our inner poverty and how to look inward as we serve others.
Get Brutally Honest
The hardest part for me to manage in all my relationships is (embarrassingly)—me. Our personal areas of loss, pain and weakness are more normal than we often think or feel. Some of those problems stem from our personality, some from choices we have made and some from what people and circumstances have done to us. Assess yourself and get healthy relationships with yourself, your family, friends, community, God and your environment. A couple of great resources are Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero and Ruthless Trust by Brennen Manning.
Christianity is centered on the idea of forgiveness—but you might not know it by the way most Christians live. Jesus put it this way in what we refer to as the Lord's Prayer “Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Most of the time we focus on how much God and others should forgive us from our sins and shortcomings. We are really free and healthy when we forgive.
Take Care of the Helpless and Hopeless
Jesus taught that rather than focus on what life and other can give us, we need to care for those in need. Jesus makes a judgement between those who feed the hungry, give a drink to someone who is thirsty, provide housing for those whom they do not know, give clothes to those who have none and visit people in the hospital and prison (Matthew 25:31-46). By getting involved we do not only deal with someone's poverty problem, we build a relationship and deal with our own poverty. Our material, financial and time resources are just tools for building up people.
Love An Enemy
This is an area where Christian methods of poverty relief get pretty messy and you might want to see Matthew 5:38 – 48 for Jesus' thoughts. Christians span an wide spectrum of how to treat enemies and there are entire doctrines defending just wars and pacifism—which you might have noticed on your Facebook news feed. However one looks to apply national defense policies, Jesus taught that on a personal level each one should take care of enemies, serve occupational forces with double kindness, and let go of hatred towards those who give us undeserved trouble – even death. I find it ironic that culturally normative phrases like “go the extra mile” and “turn the other cheek” from Jesus' commands for dealing with enemies do not have a place in many of our current conversations.
From a position of humility we can serve and be built up as we build up others. Before we can ask the poor to forgive and work with those who have oppressed them—their enemies—we need to have worked through forgiveness ourselves.