In my own attempt to deal with poverty in a Christlike way, the most profound lesson I've learned is also the most obvious: Poor people are people. Those who live and die in want of basic needs are just as smart, beautiful, creative, motivated, holy, and wise as you and I. They are also just as dumb, ugly, dull, lazy, sinful, and foolish as you and I. Living in Nicaragua, Mexico, and more recently Kenya alongside people in poverty, I've seen how our inability to identify with people across the wealth divide can subvert our good intentions in missions, hurting the people we're trying to love.
Examining our blindness to the humanity and volition of poor people would reveal a deeper issue underlying poverty: broken fellowship. We show our alienation from God by toxic relationships with each other, inequality, and poverty on a local and global scale. Fellowship among believers is at the heart of God's vision of redemption, alongside his desire for us to have individual relationships with him.
Maintaining healthy relationships across the wealth divide, however, is not easy. Lack of awareness of the enormous power differential between the "servants" and the "served" has led countless well-meaning mission groups to disempower poor communities. People who are treated as helpless come to hold a lesser view of themselves. People who believe they are "blessed to be a blessing" and in no need themselves come to a lesser view of the people they serve. These victim and savior complexes create a co-dependency that perpetuates the problems of poverty and far outweighs any temporary relief such missions provide.
I've seen this all over the world; poor people who understand that getting help requires appearing helpless, and rich people who unwittingly ...1
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