My recent trip to Haiti caused me to think about poverty in a way I never have before. The Christian worldview seems to provide a good backdrop to poverty and the appropriate response to it, especially through the gospel message. I just have four quick points to explain this connection between the Christian gospel and poverty. These points are general themes of the Bible (primarily the New Testament). I will summarize the theme, and provide links to a few verses from the Bible for reference.
1. God has given people intrinsic value. People were made in the image of God. They have individual talents and abilities that can be used to glorify God. Much of this action comes through doing work with the abilities an individual has. (Genesis 1:27, Matthew 10:29-31, 1 Corinthians 10:31)
This point was made very clear during the trip to Haiti. For two days, we helped the staff at the Ouanaminthe Vapor center with projects such as mowing a field, planting grass, or moving rocks. It was obvious that the staff were talented in various areas and were hard workers. I had a sense that the people in Haiti were not much different than I or anyone else living in the United States, especially in terms of the human value that we have, and the desire to use our abilities in a work setting.
2. Sin is present in the world, and as a result the world is not perfect. Neither are the people in that world perfect. (Romans 3:22-24)
The existence of sin leads to greed, a scarcity of resources, and many other factors that can cause economic disparity. This disparity causes an inequality with the situations that people are in.
Specifically in Haiti, throughout the past few decades, the country has been controlled by dictators and other countries. This tendency for outside parties to control Haiti has caused the people of Haiti to feel like they need to depend on others to live. An attitude of dependency inhibits the ability for Haitians to build their communities internally, without any outside help. Thus, there are limited opportunities for jobs within Haiti.
There are plenty of other factors that have led to poverty in Haiti as well. The main point is that the people of Haiti have the ability to work and support their communities, but are in a situation where it is very difficult to do so.
3. Jesus, who is God (i.e. has all of the necessary characteristics of God), came to Earth has a human and died on a cross as an atonement (payment) for the consequences of sin. He also trained disciples and commanded them to take the gospel message to the world. (Romans 5:7-8, Matthew 28:18-20, 1 Corinthians 15:1-5)
This point relates to an appropriate response to poverty. Helping the poor does not only involve giving people handouts of food and water. Those things are necessary in relief situations, but not in scenarios where long-term rehabilitation is needed. People have the ability to work, and handing things to them or working for them does not offer them the opportunity to use those abilities.
Helping the poor is more about sacrifice, which may involve becoming a part of the community, experiencing the same things they do, and offering yourself as a servant to them. These ideas were exemplified by Jesus, who became a man, experienced what people go through, and sacrificed his life for them.
Helping also involves focusing on people – training, encouraging, and leading them to a point where they can use their God-given abilities. And from there, rehabilitation can be a completely internal process. The individuals you train can train others in the community, and they can train others, and onward. This process will lead to more people using their abilities to support their lives, families, and communities.
This “discipleship” model is similar to the one used by Jesus to spread his message to the world. However, the content of his training was not limited to “job training”. Jesus informed his disciples about the Kingdom of God and trained his disciples to align their lives with God in light of that coming kingdom.
As Christians, it is important to help the poor by empowering them to use their abilities. However, the main objective of that help should be giving others an opportunity to follow Jesus Christ. The Christian worldview offers a foundation for the value that each individual has, no matter who they are, what they have done, or what abilities they have. Following Christ also leads to this last point about the gospel.
This is a simple, yet powerful point. The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us a glimpse of what things will one day be like. The followers of Christ will have their bodies renewed and will live forever with the God who created them, and is their ultimate desire. They will be in a place where there is no more pain, suffering, or sin. The pain and proverty that people are going through now is temporary; this future hope is an everlasting reality.
This point does not diminish the fact that people are going through excrutiating pain right now. It is most certainly real, and detrimental. But the hope of the Gospel provides can motivate people to move forward, no matter how difficult things get, knowing that something much greater is ahead.