We’ve seen people struggling to make ends meet, homeless people on the side of the road, hungry children, the list goes on. Our hearts are filled with compassion at the sight. We want to help people, but what is the best way to do this?
In Love Your Neighbor: Restoring Dignity, Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, Kathryn Feliciano provides biblical principles and practical advice for effectively serving the poor, showing how you can come alongside the poor in way that promotes their dignity and builds the relationships they need to break the cycle of poverty.
KF: I specifically remember watching Poverty, Inc. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it! It shows how the “poverty industry,” as the large mass of NGOs, nonprofits, government organizations, etc. that fight poverty call it, has often ended up hurting the poor more than helping them.
There is quite a bit of important literature on this idea of not all service to the poor actually being helpful. But, I remember that specific moment because it was the culmination of reading books and watching documentaries that talked about this topic. I felt bogged down by the weight of feeling helpless. I left wondering, “Well, what can I do to help the poor?”
There are so many great resources that help us understand what we shouldn’t do or what big-picture change needs to happen. But, on the local, individual level, there isn’t a lot of direction. So this booklet is the result of exploring how we think about serving our neighbors at the local level in a biblical and effective way.
What is the biblical basis for the approach to poverty you outline in the booklet?
KF: I start the booklet by highlighting our biblical call as Christians to serve the poor, and define the idea of flourishing in biblical terms.
In chapter two, I provide three flourishing principles. These principles are rules of thumb for fighting poverty and pursuing flourishing. Each principle is based on a biblical truth. The chapter does not provide a comprehensive list of all the amazing truths of the Bible. Rather, it gives the reader three biblically-based criteria they can use to assess whether an opportunity to fight poverty is an effective way to serve the poor.
In your opinion, what principles should comprise the foundation of any effective poverty alleviation program?
KF: There are many different forms poverty alleviation can take. We want to encourage diversity and variety in how programs serve the community. There are also different nuances for whether programs are aid-based or focused on long-term development.
That said, here are the three principles that should be at the base of any poverty alleviation program that targets sustainable, ongoing development. The program should:
- Respect the dignity and gifts of each human being.
- Empower the poor to further use their gifts and talents to live out their callings to work, family, community, and church.
- Focus not only on the material, but also the social, spiritual, and psychological aspects of poverty.
Fighting poverty doesn’t have to be done through a specific program. These principles would also apply to an individual helping another individual outside of a program environment.
Do you think there has been any progress in the efforts to change how people think about charity?
KF: I think so. In conversations I have had with friends and family, I have noticed a slight shift in the way people view charity. Charity is still the main way people get involved in serving the poor, but I am hopeful. With the literature out there about charity versus development, we are seeing the first sights of a shift in the way people view serving their neighbor over the long-term. I hope Love Your Neighbor can help in this effort!
What would you say to a Christian who wants to help but is paralyzed they’ll cause more harm than good?
KF: I’d say, “I’ve been there, and I get it!” It can be so hard to know how to serve once you start to learn about some of the effects of traditional charity. Don’t give up hope! There are people and organizations out there who are serving the poor in a biblical, effective way – it can be done and it can be done well. I’d hope that this person would feel more empowered to serve effectively after reading Love Your Neighbor.
How would you suggest churches go about the process of reforming their outreach programs? Especially if these programs have been longstanding.
KF: That’s a great question. For longstanding programs, there are often just a few tweaks churches can make to their existing programs that alter the incentives and the message of their programs to the poor. For programs feeding homeless people, often a group of volunteers will come in to cook, serve, and clean up for those who are staying at the church overnight. What if volunteers and homeless men and women worked together to accomplish these tasks? Involving the homeless poor in this way helps this program better fit with our flourishing principles.
- The dignity of the poor is better respected as they get to take ownership and are valued on the same level as the volunteers.
- The homeless men and women get to utilize their gifts to serve one another.
- Both groups of people get to serve together and are more able to have meaningful conversations. The other aspects of poverty, such as social and spiritual, can be better addressed as they talk with and serve one another.
It’s a small tweak. It’s not perfect. But, while we strive to serve our neighbors in a biblical, effective way, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Pray often, seek wisdom, serve humbly, keep a long-term view of development in mind, and strive to always improve your programs as you get more information and more experience.
For a limited time, we’re offering IFWE blog readers a special price of $3.99 on Love Your Neighbor: Restoring Dignity, Breaking the Cycle of Poverty. That’s more than 30 percent off the current offer price! Use code: LYNBLOG (Offer expires 12/16/16). Click here to order. Like IFWE booklets? Get the whole set! Order The IFWE Booklet Bundle today for just $44.99.