What is Poverty?

“Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings."
- Bryant Myers, Walking with the Poor

Poverty isn’t just a lack of material things – it’s rooted in broken relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. We were created to glorify God, reflect His image, love one another, and steward the rest of creation. But the fall and sin marred what God originally created. As a result, none of us are experiencing the fullness of what God intended for us.

Because the fall broke all of us, the first step in walking alongside our low-income brothers and sisters is embracing our own need for Christ’s healing work in our lives.

Not All Poverty Is Created Equal

While the symptoms of material poverty – a lack of food, clothing, or shelter – look very similar, different types of poverty actually require very different forms of poverty alleviation.

  • Relief
    In a situation requiring relief, the materially poor are truly unable to help themselves and need temporary, immediate aid. Relief is only appropriate after a natural or manmade crisis plunges people into a downward spiral, such as after a natural disaster, medical emergency, or personal trauma.
  • Rehabilitation
    In rehabilitation, people participate in returning their lives to pre-crisis conditions, contributing to improving their own situation.
  • Development
    In development, people participate in improving their lives beyond what they have seen before, experiencing reconciliation in their four foundational relationships. The materially poor recognize the gifts and abilities God has given them, using those gifts to His glory and to support themselves through work.

Unfortunately, many Christians don’t recognize these distinctions, providing relief in situations that actually require rehabilitation or development. By giving handouts to low-income people who are capable of helping themselves, churches and ministries contribute to the materially poor’s sense of shame and undermine their capacity to work.

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