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Does the “Breakthrough” Model Apply to Poverty?

A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved. This is an apt truism most of the time. But climbing a ladder with the expectation of picking the choice fruit at the top of the tree won’t yield success if the ladder is leaning on the wrong tree, or against a brick wall. Poverty is like that. 

Relational poverty is universal, not geographic: broken, impoverished relationships manifest everywhere in the global human experience. Organizations like FH understand that only when poverty solutions work to understand and address the dynamic multidimensional complexity of poverty as broken relationships, can the right enduring solutions be found. Counterintuitively, rebuilding brokenness begins with deeper brokenness. 

Many times, this process of restoration involves a combination of resources, building back, reconciliation, and filling in knowledge gaps (such as the teachings of healthy hygiene habits). But having traveled to the different regions of our work, I’ve seen where the critical “moment of lift” or “breakthrough” happens–when individual minds and hearts are revealed and renewed to God’s reality about who they are and the life that God intends for them.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” –Romans 12:2


Before starting my role as Chief Operations Officer of FH, I spent over 30 years in the Air Force. As a logistics officer, I worked to help the military improve and transform the way they deploy, employ, and sustain armed forces. Yet when I began learning more about poverty later in my career, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities between the mindset “breakthrough” that happens at bootcamp–and the “breakthrough” that happens when those in poverty rise above. Let me explain. 

A young boy in the Dominican Republic holds a baseball bat, ready to hit the incoming ball.

Poverty Boot Camp

US military basic indoctrination training, commonly known as “boot camp” offers a broken, to  brokenness, to rebuild model. Roughly one-third to one-half of military recruits’ boot camp experience involves a breaking down. From the time they get off the bus at their basic training base, superiors holler, hound, and humiliate recruits until they believe they are nobody, they have nothing to offer, and who they were in their past life counts for nothing. This is designed intentionally to bring people to the point of breaking. The psychology of this approach brings everyone down to the same level: to zero. In bootcamp, there are no favorites and no special treatment. The military mission and work regardless of specialty require a complete team effort. This is not a game. There is no room for ego or superheroes. 

This is often the case for those in poverty. Those in poverty are just like us–yet their circumstances, peers, or even their own families have beaten them down and kept them down. They are told they are nobody, they have nothing to offer, and who they were in their past life counts for nothing. Poverty is oppressive–and just as harmful as physical poverty are the invisible aspects of it–the social, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of poverty. Mother Teresa famously said: “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”

Shift Happens

At a predetermined point in the program however, a shift happens. The hollering and hounding turn to encouragement and inspiration. Finally, the new recruit comes to believe that they have something raw and useful. With a lot of work and sweat, they realize they can shape and mold this talent for the good of the team, the squad, and the unit. Each one is built up individually to new levels of confidence and contribution, realizing their role and looking to the greater good of others. There is still no room for superheroes, but there are equal contributors. 

Often times, it just takes one person to lift up another. In the communities where FH works, this shift takes understanding the foundational truths of God’s plan that intends for all creation to live abundantly and restoratively in community. Individuals begin to realize they have God-given talents and skills. While previously suppressed or downtrodden, mothers now begin volunteering as Cascade Group “leader mothers” in their communities, teaching their neighbors about raising healthy children and practicing good hygiene habits. Slowly, people gain new levels of confidence and contribution, and this community-owned change leaves a different taste in the air.  

A middle aged woman poses for a portrait outside a house in the Dominican Republic.

A middle aged woman poses for a portrait outside a house in the Dominican Republic.

Breakthrough to Boom

The breakthrough model of sustainable leadership and transformation.

What happens when a jet pilot accelerates their jet hard and fast through earth’s atmosphere, to a point that breaks the sound barrier? Sonic BOOM. Something unique visible to the naked eye shows that something transformative has occurred: breakthrough. And so in the boot camp system, after intentional and specific breakdown and deliberate and determined build-up, a breakthrough occurs. A new military mindset is established. The old is past, and the new has come. As counterintuitive as it seems, this transformation has been made possible by creating trusted relationships in a safe environment. The result breeds love. Putting others’ interest above one’s own. A bigger cause worth living and dying for. 

Finally and miraculously–it clicks. Lifting entire communities out of entrenched, extreme poverty can be a long, laborious process. It’s why change is incremental, and FH can stay up to a decade before communities begin to experience profound results. But when that “sonic boom” happens–the shift is in the past. Once communities adopt a biblical worldview and embrace a “new normal” of working together, there is often no turning back. They are investing in their children, establishing better livelihoods, and living with hope for the future. Learnings have traveled from the head to the heart. And just like in military bootcamp, a new mindset has been established. There is a transformation and investment in something “more than” just themselves, their families, and their communities–but God’s plan for all of humanity to flourish.

This is the poverty breakthrough model. 

Continue Reading:

What’s the Problem with Poverty?

Image Bearers: Those in Poverty Are Just Like Us

Going Abroad? 5 Tips to Make the Most of Your International Travel