Poverty Has Many Enemies
Editor's note: February's cover package, "The Best Ways to Fight Poverty—Really" (part one, part two), received remarkable numbers of pageviews, praises, and protests. It also provoked responses from many organizations devoted to fighting poverty. Today, leaders of those ministries respond, including World Vision US president Richard Stearns, Samaritan's Purse president Franklin Graham, Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan Reckford, HOPE International president and CEO Peter Greer, World Relief president and CEO Stephan Bauman, Food for the Hungry workers Greg Forney and Lucas Koach, and TEAR Australia national young adults coordinator Matt Anslow. Also today, Christianity Today senior managing editor Mark Galli, whose article "A Most Personal Touch" led off the February cover package, replies to the ministry leaders.
Food for the Hungry (FH) is privileged to participate in village-wide celebrations marking our exit after 8 to 10 years in a community. At one of these celebrations, a Ugandan community leader passionately referred to our time as 10 years of "transformation walk." If one simply evaluated the alleviation of poverty from an economic standpoint, the physical changes in this village—replete with a new medical clinic, school, and vocational center—would represent success.
But the issue of poverty is far more multi-faceted. In walking with the villagers, FH learned about the core beliefs and practices that contributed to hopelessness and extreme poverty. It was only through this relational approach that these issues were understood and addressed from a biblical perspective. The resulting development was not program-oriented, but people-focused, flowing from and implemented by motivated, hope-filled community members.
This is an example of what the church is called to do: walking with the lost and broken while embracing and restoring the whole person in Christ to reach their God-given potential.
The Scriptures command us to honor the role governments play (1 Pet. 2:17, Ro. 13). The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution assures freedom of religion; acknowledging one's free exercise of faith informs our body politic. Certainly, governments create conditions that can impact global poverty in ways the church alone often cannot. But "we the people," motivated by faith and sense of justice, must be informing the conversation with our leaders regularly. Jesus is Lord of all. The Bible ordains, and our Constitution acknowledges, the critical interplay of both government and religion.
Large institutional systems are important to achieve large scale change. Can these systems be improved? Certainly. Conversely, it is the church that provides the matchless transcendent motivation to walk with the poor. Can the church do more? Of course.
With these principles in mind, FH walks with policy leaders. As we do, we are motivated by personal compassion while seeking to influence and improve upon governmental policies that help the poor.
In the case of the Ugandan village, FH's relational walk spurred the villagers to tackle their poverty and pursue God's best for their community. In addition, partnering with the Ugandan government allowed for other significant poverty-ending solutions, including the provision of a full-time nurse in the medical clinic and educated teachers for the new school.
As Christians in a land where religion and politics too often yield a strange brew, let us be cautious of making categorical critiques of where the problems and solutions to global poverty lie. As believers, let us in humility acknowledge the role governments and large institutions play and welcome irenic debate to improve upon them. Let us also in humility continue to invite and challenge ourselves and our fellow man to become more, and in turn do more, for the sake of love.