Public Square

Unconventional Ways to Fight Poverty

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Should you sponsor a child? Donate your old clothes? Get involved with activism? Or go on a church service trip?

With all of the options to get involved in the fight against poverty, sometimes it’s hard to know what’s best to do, let alone know whether or not what you’re doing is actually helping.

But fighting poverty can come in ordinary ways, in counter-intuitive ways, and in counter-cultural ways. I recently published an article over at Relevant on unconventional ways you can fulfill your calling to care for the least of these that you may not have thought about before. These are a few of them.

Change the Way You Talk about Poverty

In the materialistic society we live in today, it’s easy to talk about poverty purely in terms of a lack of material things. But those who live on less than two dollars a day describe it differently.

President of HOPE International Peter Greer says to them, poverty is an empty heart, a lack of hope, isolation, severed relationships, and not knowing God. Poverty is a brokenness that penetrates every layer of life. Material deficiency is only one piece of the problem.

If we train ourselves to talk about poverty in terms of broken relationships—personal, societal, and spiritual—instead of making it just about what things people don’t have, it changes the way we interact with the poor because we have all experienced poverty.

Once we find ourselves in the same place as the panhandler on the street, we abandon the “us-and-them” mentality. Maybe then we will make eye contact instead of looking away. Maybe then we will ask their name. Maybe then we will come to see that person for who they really are, and seek to better understand what they really need.

Respect the Dignity of the Poor

When I was in college, I went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic to volunteer at a women’s social work site in an impoverished village. I asked the site leader, Daisy, who was a local herself, if I could give the young girls some of my old clothes and jewelry that I brought from home. She said, “Yes, but make them pay five pesos. They all have five pesos to spare.”

Even though five Dominican pesos is only equivalent to $0.12, asking the girls for money sounded cruel to me. I asked her why.

She explained that volunteers come and go from the village year-round, and the girls are used to getting free stuff, but “they appreciate more what they pay for,” she said.

When the girls came by later that day, I announced that I was selling clothes and jewelry for five pesos apiece. After much excited screaming and jumping, they sprinted down the dirt road back to their homes and returned with a few pesos to go shopping.

I watched as each girl proudly handed me her pesos and pointed to the bracelet or shirt she wanted to buy. No longer did the girls see my donations as my old stuff that I didn’t want anymore, but as a prize they are privileged to own. It was as if—if even for a moment—they had forgotten the extremity of their own material poverty.

No human being wants to feel like a charity case. Whenever you have the chance to charge a small amount for a donation, do it for the dignity of the receiver.

Of course there is a time and a place to give things away for free, especially in crisis situations, but use good discernment to know when donations need to be given freely and when they are robbing the receivers of their dignity.

The question should not be “How can I meet their material needs?” but “How can I meet their needs as a full person while also protecting their dignity?”

Do Your Job Well

You don’t have to work for an NGO to fight poverty in your work.

Our vocation is one of the primary ways we respond to the Christian call to serve others and love our neighbors. This means many of us might already fight poverty in our daily work, however ordinary, without even realizing it

If you’re a barista, you’re brewing coffee bought from farmers in third-world countries. If you work in telecommunications, you contribute to an industry that provides cell-phone access in impoverished nations. If you work on an oil field, you’re providing fuel that keeps someone warm at night. If you work in recruiting, you can connect someone to a job they desperately need.

One way to fight poverty is to prayerfully discern your calling and then do it well. Though it’s not always obvious how you’re helping the poor in your work, we should all think about our vocation as a means to serve others and love our neighbors, locally and globally.

Read the full Relevant article here.

Learn more about effective ways to fight poverty with IFWE’s new book, For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty. Buy it here

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  • Ken Steensma

    If our focus is on ‘fighting’ urban poverty, why not try out a different paradigm – building prosperity. As a 1969 urban resident ‘futurist’ suggested – turn off the top-down funding, equip us to solve our own problems, support us until we are succeeding, then move aside and let us direct our own future. Why not use solving priority problems to build 21st Century competency, then leverage it with employers and retailers, and finally use social entrepreneurship to build the capital needed to be self-sustaining?

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