Just as I anticipated, this book “When Helping Hurts” has challenged me in many of my assumptions about the materially poor.  As I get in to the 3rd chapter of the book, I found many of my long-help assumptions about the poor were based on my own worldview and not the facts found in data.  Ultimately that means I have to work to change my assumptions.  Huh, imagine that?  Someone changing their mind about something because of actual facts.  If that happened more…..well never mind.

The statement which made the biggest impact on me was this: “Caucasian evangelicals in the United States, for whom the systems have worked well, are particularly blind to the systemic causes of poverty and are quick to blame the poor for their plight.  Evangelicals tend to believe that systemic arguments for poverty amount to shifting the blame for personal sin and excusing moral failure.” Basically most white evangelicals cannot see the forest for the trees.  They don’t see the failure of certain systems because they are benefitting from them.  See!  I told you this was challenging.

Here are some other thoughts which stand out as I read this chapter:

  • We need to have a clear concept of “success” if we want to have any hope of alleviating poverty.
  • Poverty is rooted in broken relationships, so the solution to poverty is rooted in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to put all things into right relationship again.
  • We are not the reconciler; Jesus is.
  • Poverty Alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.
  • The goal is not to make the materially poor all over the world into middle-to-upper class North Americans, a group characterized by high rates of divorce, sexual addiction, substance abuse, and mental illness.
  • The goal is to restore people to a full expression of humanness, to being what God created us all to be, people who glorify God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with other, and with the rest of creation.
  • Because every one of us is suffering from brokenness in our foundational relationships, all of us need “poverty alleviation”, just in different ways.
  • The goal is to see people restored to being what God created them to be.
  • The correct functioning of the foundational relationships requires a proper worldview, which may be defined as the “total set of beliefs or assumptions that comprise the min-set of an individual and determine what they believe and how the behave.
  • Faulty worldview can be a major cause of material poverty.
  • David Hilfiker, and inner-city medical doctor, explains “Sex and childbirth among teenagers in the ghetto is about personal affirmation.”
  • Carl Ellis, a scholar who has studied “ghetto nihilism” extensively, notes that incidents like this (two 10-year-old boys killing a 5-year-old by throwing him out a 14th floor window because he wouldn’t steal candy for them) emanate from a worldview of “predatory gratification” that is embraced by some members of the criminal subset of ghetto populations.  This worldview sees other human beings simply as “prey” that may be destroyed if it fills the hunter’s belly.”
  • In some cases, people’s world views are so distorted that it is difficult to bring about any progress at all until the people undergo a major paradigm shift.
  • In pursuit of more material possessions as the source of our happiness, many American couples are running themselves ragged, with both parents working long hours in high-stress jobs.  In the process, children and marriages are often neglected, tearing families apart and leading to a host of long-range psychological and social problems.  Like some of the materially poor, our own world views need transformation.
  • Systems can play a huge role in contributing to their material poverty.
  • What happens when society crams historically oppressed, uneducated, unemployed, and relatively young human beings into high-rise buildings; takes away their leaders; provides them with inferior education, healthcare, and employment systems; and then pays them not to work?
  • Is it really that surprising that we see out-of-wedlock pregnancies, broken families, violent crimes, and drug trafficking?
  • As we work with materially poor people, it is crucial that we realize that we are not coming to them as blank slates.  The way we act toward them  expresses our own world view.
  • The material definition of poverty emanates from the modern world view’s belief that ll problems-including poverty, are fundamentally material in nature and can be solved by using human reason to manipulate the material world in order to solve those problems.
  • Too often we drill wells, dispense medicine, and provide food without narrating that Jesus Christ is the Creator and Provider of these material things.  Then later we offer a Bible study in which we explain that Jesus can save our sours.  This approach communicates evangelical gnosticism” material things solve material poverty, and Jesus solves spiritual poverty.
  • We are finite, frail, and sinful creatures who are deeply influenced by our own cultural settings in ways we cannot even identify.

As I take some time to process this new information, I can already feel my outlook on the materially poor changing.

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