Here is an important thought on working with the poor. See if you can follow me on this. We need to consider what the primary cause of poverty is. Because the cause will determine the correct solution:
- If we believe the primary cause of poverty is a lack of knowledge then we will primarily try to educate the poor.
- If we believe the primary cause of poverty is oppression by powerful people then we will primarily try to work for social justice.
- If we believe the primary cause of poverty is the personal sins of the poor then we will primarily try to evangelize and disciple the poor.
- If we believe the primary cause of poverty is a lack of material resources then we will give material resources to the poor.
Can you see how important that list is? And the answers are different person to person.
Here is an example from the book:
A person comes to your church asking for help with paying an electric bill. On the surface, it appears that this person's problem is lack of material resources, and the easiest thing to do may be to give this person enough money to pay the electric bill. But what if this person's fundamental problem is not having the self-discipline to keep a stable job? (Or what if they never have lived on a budget? Or what if they have been spending so much money on alcohol that they don't have enough for their needs? Or maybe something less "offensive" – like top tier cable TV?) In this case, the gift of the money does more harm than good, and maybe it would be better not to do anything at all than to give this handout.
By the way – this is why we often require people to meet with one of our financial counseling volunteers and to take Financial Peace University. No matter the cause of their difficulty – those things will be helpful!
Helping those who are hurting is complicated.