ENDING POVERTY TOGETHER

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Why A Christian Approach to Poverty Matters

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WRITTEN BY Robbie Peterson

Luis Noda at Food for the Hungry
Long-term FH staff member Luis Noda. Luis has always championed a Christian approach to poverty alleviation.

A Christian Approach to Poverty

I have worked in international relief and development for more than 27 years, beginning when I finished college in my home country of Bolivia. Over these 27 years, I have learned how faith-based organizations like Food for the Hungry (FH) make a unique contribution to eradicating poverty and alleviating human suffering. While there are plenty of organizations working to end poverty, I have become convinced that a Christian approach to poverty is transformational. Our response comes out of our Christian values. What’s different? We think that there are three characteristics that define our response. FH’s vision and mission focus on the poor, vulnerable, and those experiencing suffering. The motivation to respond comes from God calling us to avoid being indifferent and act. Why is this call from God so compelling and mobilizing?

Starting With Dignity

The answer rests in what Christians say about who is poor and vulnerable. Many Christians are familiar with the words of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew: “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The core of what Jesus said is about the nature of human beings. We are created in the image of God. When we internalize this truth, we find that God’s call to end poverty and human suffering is compelling and fulfilling because every child, adult, or elderly person we interact with is an image-bearer. This is regardless of their race or economic or social status. A Christian response to poverty begins by focusing on the dignity of the whole person.

If we are interested in the dignity of the whole person, the ultimate goal is to see them flourish. Therefore, Christians partner with those we serve. We carefully implement projects and activities that help people move closer to flourishing. This includes working to address violations of human dignity and ensure that everyone has access to nutritious food, education, and water. And it includes addressing issues like gender-based violence. Someone in poverty cannot flourish.

That is what sets Christians apart in our work to end poverty around the world. This work is not motivated by wanting to be good people or develop cost-effective solutions. Rather, we see other humans as valuable image-bearers in the eyes of God. We want to see them flourish.

 

“I Come to Give Life, and Life to the Fullest”

At FH, we believe that every person has God-given potential. That potential blossoms in the context of community. And we believe that communities are the best places to see a continuous improvement in people’s wellbeing. Not only does understanding people as image-bearers affirm their unique value, but it is also a promise that every individual and community has the potential to flourish. This is the second unique characteristic of a Christian response to poverty.

FH partners with the people we serve. We walk with leaders, families, churches, and communities. We help them increase the capacity to tap into their God-given potential. Together, we want to strengthen parents, community leaders, church leaders, and teachers. We don’t want to replace them. Instead, we come alongside them to build up their capacity. This displays our relational commitment in our work. This is the way of Jesus!

During Jesus’ short time on earth, He stood in crowds, dined in people’s homes, and laid hands on the sick for healing. At FH, we apply this relational approach in our work. We work to see tangible changes, like fewer children suffering from malnutrition or an increase in children attending school. But we also look to see the emergency of hope for a better future, more collaboration in the community, and changes in people’s mindsets. These factors are key to lasting impact and transformation. They are also part of our Christian work toward ending poverty that we should intentionally promote and communicate.

Where is the role of faith in this?

And what is the role of faith in this? The real answer might be “Where is it not?” We help people meet their own basic needs. But we also believe in them, collaborate together, build up their ability to make a change, and instill in them a sense of value. In doing so, we demonstrate God’s love practically. In doing so, we hope to see an end to spiritual poverty and the start of flourishing for the whole person.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” –John 10:10

 

When Jesus said he came to give life to full, life to the fullest is not just about our spiritual selves, but our whole selves. Life to the fullest honors the dignity humans are given by the Creator.

Another example is found in Luke 4. There, Jesus declares himself to be the fulfillment of an ancient promise, good news for the poor, prisoner, and oppressed. The bringer of sight to the blind. A sign of God’s favor to His people. The healer of many who casts out demons.

Why does Jesus do this? Because disease and demons are not part of God’s Kingdom. Jesus’ message and actions expressed the concept of life to the fullest. Jesus’ ministry was an explosion of life in a world submerged in death.

In FH’s relief and development work, we have to remember that spiritual and physical life are not separate lives. Instead, they are interconnected. Any response to the physical needs of the world’s vulnerable people needs to be holistic. It needs to speak to their physical and spiritual realities. In this, Christian relief and development demonstrate God’s love. And they show how He brings physical and spiritual life through Jesus Christ.

Transformation Is the End Goal

I have worked for more than two decades at FH. In this time, I have experienced transformation myself as I have witnessed profound changes in people’s lives and communities. I know firsthand what God can do through a Christian approach to relief and development.

A Story of Transformation

One example of this is a story I keep in mind. This story is about a girl who is now a young woman. I met her in a remote village in Bolivia. She participated in various FH projects related to education, livelihoods, and health. FH supported her mother during a period of illness. With this support, this young woman was able to access educational opportunities, going on to finish high school and obtain a bachelor’s degree in social work. She eventually returned to her home community and joined the local government as a city council member.

When I asked her why she decided to pursue a degree in social work, she gave me an answer I will never forget. She said that her main reason was wanting to help women in her community. This young woman wanted to help others overcome discrimination and a lack of opportunity. She chose social work because she wanted to be like a local FH staff member, a woman, who had prayed for her and followed up with her throughout her childhood and youth. This staff member was her role model.

What I saw in this girl was more than the result of a project. It was the restoration of dignity and growth toward her God-given potential, up to the point that she continued the process by helping her own community and others nearby. Her faith was inspiring and mobilizing.

For me, this story has deepened my understanding of what God can do in the lives of others when our work is focused on the whole person and seeing their flourishing. These types of stories are beautiful. And they are the repertoire of FH staff, volunteers, donors, and supporters.

This story describes the third characteristic of a Christian response to relief and development: transformation. The transformation experienced by vulnerable people changes us too. We gain a fresh understanding of the image of God in others and ourselves. And we are humbled as we are bonded tightly to those we serve as we participate in transformation by the One who is making all things new.

The Uniqueness of the Christian Approach to Poverty

The Christian approach to poverty and humanitarian disasters is unique. It must be, because it understands humans as image-bearers, full of potential, and valuable in the sight of God. Our response is holistic, addressing both the physical and spiritual aspects of human life. And then, when this approach bears fruit, it helps us as FH staff, supporters, or donors, grow in our own faith journeys.

This is the ultimate goal of seeking an end to all forms of human poverty and it is the goal of our Christian response to poverty.

Want to learn more about FH’s unique response to relief and development? Click here to learn more about our approach.

Learn more about FH’s Christian response to poverty:

God’s Story: The Story that Matters Most

The Poor You Will Always Have With You—What Did Jesus Mean?

What James 1 Tells Us About the Story We’re Called to Live Out

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