The needs of the poor provide occasions for God to mold and shape our faith.

“When you have enemies like hunger, poverty, and disease,” a young man from Bangladesh declares, “You have no choice but to fight. You fight to be born and fight to stay alive!”

The battle against poverty goes on and on. Most of us, the world would say, are among the winners. But what should we as Christians do about the poverty of others?

By virtually every standard, ours is the most affluent country in the world. We spend billions of dollars on relief and welfare. Yet millions among us know the ache of poverty. In 1964, as part of his dream for the Great Society, President Lyndon Johnson declared unconditional war on poverty. But poverty did not disappear. In 1976, after spending hundreds of billions of dollars, the country was told by the Census Bureau that more than one in every ten Americans must be considered poor.

Take Mattie Schultz, for example—a white-haired widow in her nineties. Recently in her home city of San Antonio, Texas, she spent a night in jail after being charged with shoplifting. According to the Chicago Tribune, she was accused of taking $15.04 worth of ham, sausage, and butter to keep from starving. Within a few days after newspapers and TV stations had told her story, offers of help came pouring in. But the fact that such a thing could happen reminds us that in spite of all our relief and help programs, the poor are still among us.

Who are the poor? According to U.S. Labor Department standards, an urban family of four lives in poverty if its income is less than $6,700 per year. The latest census figures indicate that nearly 25 million still live below that minimum today.

Overseas the pinch of poverty is worse. Not long ago, Time ...

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