Working With the Poor – The Church Practicing Poverty Alleviation

  • Poverty is the lack of relationships with God, ourselves, others and the rest of creation.
  • The holism of God's creation demands holistic development and work in community.
  • The church and its ambassadors of reconciliation seek to put holistic community development into action.
  • The ultimate goal of the disciples is to seek reconciliation with God, themselves, others and the rest of creation.

The church serves from the forefront when it comes to developing communities and the betterment of impoverished regions. The long-held legacy of support and care for the poor got the title of “Robin Hood” for the churches. However, such approaches have never provided consistently effective outcomes. To elaborate, these approaches are more of a forceful circulation of wealth than equal distribution. Despite the pure intentions and dedicated measures, the church’s efforts to alleviate poverty in monetary terms often yield momentary benefits. The short-term solutions and attempts to improve the conditions of the materially poor made them dependent on the church in monetary terms.

The problem of poverty is prevalent and stark. Poverty is not solely the deprivation of material needs and lack of money to meet those needs. The lack of faith and spirit is the most neglected form of poverty that many fail to realize. The people living in poverty have both spiritual and emotional needs which require proper addressing. The best way church could alleviate poverty is to spread the message of Jesus and the Gospel as He will surely provide for both practical and emotional needs.

The church practicing holistic community development

The greatest privilege bestowed on humankind was being chosen as carriers of the work of Jesus. Even though we bear witness and acknowledge the greatest privilege on humankind, most believers don’t feel that strongly in that regard. Jesus chose his followers and believers to globalize the message and good news. The core theme of Jesus’s message was to send and spread the good news and glad tidings of the Kingdom of God. Jesus equipped his disciples and followers with his teachings as he declared Good news for those who believed. The disciples, under the command of Jesus, headed out to preach the Gospel. For years they watched Jesus Christ preaching Gospel and fulfilling the holy task of God’s kingdom singlehandedly. Now, he equipped them and called them to go out and proclaim the kingdom of God.

“Then he called his twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick,” Luke 9:1-2

Gospel is the good news sent down from the heavens to redeem mankind, and preaching the Gospel was is deemed as good work with promised benefits and rewards. Many people argue that the Gospel no tangible solution for humanity’s sufferings – the message of Jesus manifests the solutions for worldly troubles. However, people of faith have a conviction on what Jesus did for us and his resurrection, but most of them fail to trust what Gospel preaches.

Jesus sent the good news to believers and non-believers alike. The literal meaning of the word gospel is good news. Jesus has always been there for the people of the Kingdom of God with care and out of sheer love for his people. Even when our faith in God wavers, he rescues his believers through unseen ways. The primary reason to be the sole rescuer of humanity was to strengthen the faith in the Gospel while enabling us to practice God’s message in daily life.

The idea to understand here is that the Gospel talks about each of us. Jesus preached that the Father was the greatest of all, yet He and God were one. The omnipotent God is the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit cannot be separated from Father and Son, and likewise, the Father the Son, and the Holy Spirit cannot be separated from each other. The message of Jesus, which is the faith in Trinity, is an interwoven and inseparable belief, greater than the parts individually. The interrelation of the Trinity makes Jesus and God holonic.

Humankind is created in the image of God. He designed us with perfection, sinless and complete. Just as the good Lord and Jesus are holonic, humanity was with holism. All the creations on Earth, big or small, derives a certain pattern of holism from Trinity. To simplify, biblical holism is all about a holonic God saving a holonic world peopled by holonic creation while maintaining it all holistically.

The holism of God’s creation demands holistic development and an inclusive community. Community development is related to the incorporation of a location-based, solution-focused response to material poverty. It is more about mitigating inequities, not just impact alleviation. The community development approach caters to the gaps in systems, factors, and environment that led to poverty creation and escalation.

When it comes to holistic community development, alleviating material poverty is not sufficient. The role of the church becomes crucial in holistic community development. Since practicing holistic community development requires reestablishing the damaged four rudimental relationships, i.e., relationship with God, relationship with self, relationship with others, and relationship with the rest of the creations.

Love God:

Love is a crucial feature of God in Christianity. The love of God forms the center of spirituality in Christian belief and faith. It has been a prevalent concept of multiple holy scriptures, specifically the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament voices the Love of God in rich vocabulary at multiple instances. The New Testament talks about God’s love for humanity, making the Love of God the core of spirituality and belief.

When we talk about loving the Lord and omnipotent God, the leader of Christian belief, Jesus Christ, commanded the believers to love God:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

For every believing and practicing Christian, God is the ultimate source for everything that they have and every experience they go through. God loves all of His creations, especially humans, as we benefited from the ultimate salvation of the Son. The greatness of God demands complete faith in his oneness, fear for His wrath, trust in His plans, and love for Him above all things and creations. The Triune is the only true God that Christians believe in and are forbidden to idolize other gods.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). 

Another aspect of loving God is to avoid misusage of the name of Lord, Father, and Holy Spirit. The concept of loving God prohibits the believers from cursing, swearing, getting involved in satanic acts, lies, and deceptions. If a believer truly loves God and trusts His plans, he would call upon His name in every trouble, praise, gratefulness, and prayer. The name of God refers to His characteristics, His essence, and His commandments.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts have a good understanding. To Him belongs eternal praise,” Psalm 111:10. 

The Love of God requires sincere prayers and wholehearted worship. The Christians are commanded to observe the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath day. Sabbath, in literal terms, means rest and worship. The believers are required to pray together in the congregation on the day of rest and to keep it holy and specified for worship. The preaching of Jesus Christ and the word of God are sacred, and despising them is one of the greatest sins.

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, in their book When Helping Hurts, mention spiritual poverty as a denial of God’s authority and existence, inclination towards materialism, and idolization. The sinful nature and flawed behaviors of humankind are impacted by the works of Satan and his legions, inflicting disorder at individual levels.

Eve and Adam’s original sin damaged the relationship with God, enabling Satan to bring about destruction on humankind. Spiritual poverty is a definite consequence of the fall that needs to be catered to with God’s word.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven,” Hebrew 1:3. 

The relationship with God is the first foundational relation that needs to be fixed. An effective way to gain God’s mercy is to believe in the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Then, to proclaim and demonstrate God’s love by preaching the Gospel’s message to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ. Our responsibility as ambassadors of reconciliation is to carry out the holy task that Jesus entrusted us with. Evangelizing and reconciliation are to be carried out until God calls us to the heavens above.

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship,” Galatians 4:4-5. 

The holistic community in which we live includes people who are both materialistically poor and poor in spirit. The people who are poor in spirit need rescuing from poverty, which is the church’s responsibility. The unfortunate reality is that we often misunderstand the Love of God and misinterpret the concept of poverty. The poor become the object of charity to gain reputation. The basic measure in serving and helping the poor is to love them, consider them as equals, and prefer for them what we would prefer for ourselves.

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God,” Leviticus 19:34. 

The church with their ambassadors of reconciliation need to educate the spiritual poor about the biblical concepts and understand Scripture’s narrative. Make the church facilities easily accessible and available to the poor. Mostly, the church facilities are underutilized, and it is crucial to utilize them to meet the community’s needs. Serve the poor by availing the financial resources to improve relief efforts in times of crisis.

“Give to the one who asks you, and does not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you,” Matthew 5:42

Love Yourself 

God symbolizes love, and he is the perfect embodiment of love who loves His creation unconditionally. He sees your flaws, He knows every mistake, and even if you reject Him, his love remains strong and unconditional. The degree of love and loyalty towards His creation is unfathomable and unachievable for humans. However, having faith in His love lets you know that you are valuable. God loves you with all your flaws and zero exceptions, making you worthy of love and respect. He would never give up on you, even if you give up on Him. In the eyes of the Lord, every human is of high value and worthy of love. Simply believing and realizing the strength of God’s love infuses self-love. Once you know that you are valuable in front of your Lord, you will start respecting and accepting yourself for who you are.

“You shall love… yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

The relationship you have with yourself is of crucial importance. Self-hatred and despising your very being leads to god complexes and lower self-esteem.

“These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee,” Titus 2:15. 

Accepting your extraordinary value by the grace of God, despite of your flaws, makes you closer to God and self-confident. The higher self-esteem and self-confidence enable you to help serve with the church and work for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who love you more than you or anyone could love you.

“Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love,” 1 John 4:8. 

Humankind is the creation of God which was made in His image and loved unconditionally. Hating yourself is equivalent to despising the creation of God. Low self-esteem and lack of belief in God result in doubting one’s value and worth. As the ambassadors of reconciliation, it is the church’s responsibility to restore the self-belief and esteem of followers of Jesus.

Love your neighbor

Jesus commanded us to love ourselves and others. The second table of commandments demonstrates how we should honor and respect the people living around us. He clearly and strongly condemned the act of murder. Having love and fear of God prohibits humankind from harming other human beings or hurting our neighbor in his body. God loves those who support the people living around him and help the neighbors in meeting their physical needs.

Despising the authorities — at home, government, and church — and disrespecting them is regarded as direct disobedience of God’s commandments. The true Christian and strict follower of Jesus is supposed to respect and value their authorities starting with their parents. Serving and cherishing your parents is an act most loved by the Triune. This predicate also includes the other authorities such as guardians at school, workplaces, and churches.

“Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment,” Roman 13:2.

A true Christian regards family life and personal relationships as a blessing from God and holds marriage’s stability between man and woman in the highest regard. Marriage is a sacred bond and covenant formed with God himself as a witness to it. It is a blessing that is made holy and pure through a mutual agreement, making it a special God-given bond.

“For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So, they are no longer two, but one flesh,” Mark 10:7-8. 

Breakdown of this sacred bond is a clear violation of the teachings of Jesus and the preaching of the Gospel. Christianity preaches a sexually pure and decent life in which husband and wife honor and value each other till death do them apart.

“Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate,” Mark 10:9. 

In the Christian faith, sexual relationship is acceptable only after marriage. The ten commandments prohibit engagement in sexual activity and acts before marriage. It includes the concept of adultery. Adultery is related to sexual fidelity when you are in a marriage. Family life and a stable marriage are blessings from God, and such acts lead to devastating consequences on both marital and family lives.

Parents, children, and spouses form the core of family life. However, our lives are not restricted to family interactions only. The people living around us and the ones we interact with daily are known as our neighbors. In Christianity’s language, all people and believers are known as neighbors. God forbids us from speaking ill, slandering, betraying, defaming, and giving false testimony against our neighbors. Jesus teaches us through Gospel to respect our neighbors, defend them, and speak kindly to them.

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord,” Leviticus 19:18. 

Another responsibility that God has entrusted us with towards the neighbor is against coveting the properties that belong to others. Coveting and desiring to own what neighbors possess through trickery is a sinful act that is looked down upon by God and humankind. The ninth and tenth commandment discusses coveting sin and forbids us from scheming against neighbors to acquire what is rightfully theirs.

“Woe to those who plan iniquity… They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance,” Micah 2:1-2. 

The believers and followers of Jesus live to serve humanity by demonstrating the kindness and humility that was the foundation of God’s message.

“And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,” Matthew 22:39. 

Strengthening the relationship with people around us fulfills the fundaments of relationships with others. Providing for your neighbors, looking after their needs without exploitation, and serving your neighbors in possible ways is how the church and believers can help form a better and Christ-oriented community.

Love the rest of Creation

As the conveyors of God’s message and bringers of Good News, all the believers are responsible for looking after God’s creation. Humankind is blessed with Scripture which motivates them to love and care for every creation of God. The emphasis on maintaining and looking after the natural world is strong and rich.

“God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground,” Genesis 1:28.

The Christians ought to follow the counter-cultural, distinguished, and biblical perspective of the world that helps them act as per Christ’s teachings towards other creations. Having for the rest of the creation is more about fulfilling the role of humanity Lord delegated to us. The act of caring for creation reflects the love and care God showed to the first-ever man, i.e., Adam and Eve.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it,” Genesis 2:15. 

The impact of original sin was such that it disturbed humankind’s relationship with the rest of creation. The poverty of stewardship prevailed, blurring the sense of purpose and reinforcing the curse. The term stewardship means to take care of the world created by the omnipotent Lord. He appointed humanity as the stewards and care-givers of the entire creation. It is the responsibility of mankind to move about and maintain the harmony of nature. However, the wrath of Lord brought the curse, making mankind oblivious of their duties towards creations. Lethargy, materialism, and loss of a sense of purpose were the ultimate results.

“To the woman he said, I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor, you will give birth to children… “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil, you will eat food from it all the days of your life,” Genesis 3: 16-17

All creatures hold significant value and are beloved to the Lord. Caring for the creations and planet is similar to taking care of mankind. Employ tangible actions, including conducting seminars through evangelical networks, working on restoration projects, making disciples and disciples makers, sending short-term mission teams, and participating in environment-saving programs. Being a responsible Christian towards the Earth and Mother Nature reflects the love for God.

Undoubtedly, the original sin and the fall incurred damaging impacts on humankind, ruining the very foundations of the relationship among mankind, God, and God’s creations. The brokenness of social, political, religious, and economic systems are consequences of the fall. The severity of impacts could only be decreased by fixing all four of the relationships.

Miguel Torneire

Is the founder and the Executive Director of Developing Our World, an organization that seeks to put holistic community development into action. He loves Jesus! And, he is a husband, a father, a Lutheran Pastor, a Missionary, an Author, a flamenguista (a supporter of Clube de Regatas do Flamengo soccer team), and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner.

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