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.
What are the best ways to fight poverty? It depends on what you mean by poverty.
If we mean economic poverty as defined by macroeconomic growth, then we must realize such growth is often catalyzed by nonprofits—some who lead change, and many who partner with the local church. In Nicaragua, for example, through a church-led, community-based agriculture initiative, families who once struggled to feed their children now sell their coffee to gourmet roasters in the U.S. and Europe.
If, by poverty, we mean disempowerment, characterized by the incapacity to access financial, social, or political resources, then helping people overcome their own poverty is essential. We must be careful not to do for others what they can do for themselves, else their change becomes ours, and we disempower.
Agriculture initiatives, microfinance, and child survival programs have reduced the vulnerability of millions by empowering the community in sustainable ways. In Mozambique, for example, World Relief worked with churches in a community-based child survival program to address common killers including malaria, diarrhea, and malnutrition. As a result, the death rates for infants and children were nearly halved.
If, by poverty, we mean spiritual poverty, and if restored relationships are essential to overcoming poverty in all its dimensions, then Christ-centered, church-based community development is foundational to sustained change. In Cambodia, for example, where only 1.3 percent of the population is Christian, more than 12,000 followers of Christ, organized into more than 1,000 cell churches, reach out to tens of thousands of malnourished children and people living with HIV/AIDS. Who is driving this change? Those we, in the West, would consider poor and needy: church members, modern day heroes, who call themselves "a church without walls."
To say that the church is only mildly relevant in moving the mountains of poverty is to split word from deed and splinter the Gospel between sacred and secular. Jesus didn't do that, nor should we. History has shown that the church can—and does—bring profound hope and change to a weary world when we address poverty in all its dimensions—spiritual, social, and economic—and when we empower the least of these towards proven, community-based solutions.
Church or state? Both. But let's steer clear of a superficial understanding of poverty and a dualism that has paralyzed the church and crippled the Gospel for too long. The church's finest hour is at hand. Let's not squander it.
Stephan Bauman is President/CEO of World Relief, which empowers the worldwide church to overcome global poverty and injustice.