Most of us at one time or another have thrown a dollar bill into the cup of a homeless man standing on a street corner. We do it because we want to help even though we know that our dollar won't really solve a problem that has much deeper causes. He'll be on the street again tomorrow because we've just treated a symptom of his condition without really addressing the cause.
As president of World Vision, I see Christians taking a similar approach to helping the poor internationally. Out of obedience to Christ, churches rightly want to respond to the desperate needs of the billions who suffer in poverty around the world and so they often reach out by feeding the hungry, caring for orphans, sending medical teams or shipping in various supplies. And these things do help to relieve suffering, but at the end of the day the poor are still poor. It's not much different than handing that dollar to the homeless man.
American Christians are astounding in their generosity. Tens of thousands of churches pour resources into feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and building houses and orphanages. Hundreds of thousands trek to Africa, Asia, and Latin America each year on short-term mission trips desiring to offer their help.
But here's the problem: Poverty, whether here in America or abroad, is one of the oldest and most complex problems plaguing the human race. It is tangled in social, cultural, economic, political, ethnic, geographic, and spiritual factors that challenge even the most skilled experts. Simple solutions just don't work, and well-meaning amateurs can not only waste valuable resources but even cause unintended harm in their efforts.
The complex puzzle of poverty
We are right to help, ...