Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Paralysis of Poverty

January 4, 2017

In his book "When Helping Hurts," authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert offer an insight about poverty that doesn't occur to most of us. Citing Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, they state, "It is [the] lack of freedom to make meaningful choices-to have an ability to affect one's situation-that is the distinguishing feature of poverty." For those of us who live in relative comfort, it is a foreign concept to see oneself as powerless. In Christian parlance, we loudly proclaim that Christ sets us free, usually meaning that he gives us not only freedom from sin, but also from the systems that are the manifestation of sin.

If I get sick, I pray, but I also can consult a physician, even multiple physicians, can go to a pharmacy for medicines, and if necessary, I could even change my living arrangements by moving to a climate more conducive to my health. In contrast, a woman of the lowest class in India or a refugee in Rwanda may have no option other than prayer. If my neighborhood were to be awash in violence such as plagues certain boroughs of South Chicago, I have the resources to defend myself or to move somewhere else, but where does the elderly man in the projects go when the gangs are shooting up the neighborhood? When one has no options, hopelessness is usually not far away.

I'm just starting this book, and already I'm grateful for the insights I am learning from it. If we never step outside of our own personal experiences, we will never grow beyond our own self-imposed boundaries, which is one of the reasons I advocate short-term mission trips. Visiting other places as tourists only imposes our own experiences on the places we visit. Getting off the tourist trail and striving to serve and listen is how we grow. Years ago, the pastor of a mission-minded church stated that he believed that there was no such thing as genuine conversion unless it was cross-cultural. I am inclined to believe him. Colossians tells us that in Christ, we are translated from the kingdom of this world into the kingdom of God. One cannot get much more cross-cultural than that!

Tonight, I am grateful for the opportunities I have to continue growing as a Christian and a human being. And I am humbled to have been given options that have been denied to so many others.

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