The objections are as ugly as they are predictable.

“Jesus said we will always have the poor with us. If He says we can’t actually eliminate poverty, why bother trying?”

“If they are poor, they must be lazy. They made their bed, now they can lie in it.”

“Why help foreigners when our own people need help?”

Sri Lanka boys laughing

© 2012 World Vision. Image credit Matthew Paul Turner.

I’ve heard them over and over since I first expressed a desire to teach English in China during a summer job. My college-aged coworkers couldn’t understand how I could consider leaving the good ol’ U. S. of A. I heard the objections again when I traveled to Bolivia last year and again when I flew to Sri Lanka last month.

It’s disheartening to hear these tired old arguments over and over. It breaks my heart to hear such hard-hearts, such lack of compassion, such refusal to obey the commands of God. I try to understand. I know that these objections come from incomplete or misguided readings of Scripture, political sound bites, insulation from and ignorance of the poor, and our own selfishness and greed. Toddlers aren’t the only ones who don’t like to share.

ladies at the market in Sri Lanka

©2012 World Vision. Image credit Matthew Paul Turner.

Rather than cry or rant or give up on humanity as I am wont to do, I choose to confront these arguments again. Instead of simply debating them, I have five challenges for you and for me.

Five ways we must stop failing the poor, each other, and our God.

    1. Get out of the nest and get on the ground. Go see the conditions of both the U.S. poor and the international poor first-hand. Understanding the complexities of poverty and aid requires seeing the conditions, listening to the stories, smelling the lack of sanitation, tasting what passes for food, and giving attention and care to neglected children and adults.

      Bolivian girl crouching

      ©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

 

    1. Stop misinterpreting the verse “The poor you will always have with you” as a statement that poverty is the status quo and an excuse to ignore them. To do so is to take a single phrase completely out of its original context. This passage is about worship, not charity. Incidentally, have you ever read the parallel verse? Most people quote Matthew 26:11, and not Mark 14:7. Mark follows the phrase with this one: “and you can help them any time you want.”Jesus assumes we will help the poor.

      Don’t make the mistake of claiming that a single phrase negates the myriad of commands throughout the Old and New Testament to help the poor, defend the widows and orphans, and give generously. Here are three of many.
      –  Isaiah 1
      –  Isaiah 58
      –  James 1:26-27

      Bolivian dance

      ©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

    2. Reject the false notion that the poor are predestined to be poor. This kind of fatalism is basically a caste system and it has no place among Christians. We are all equal in the eyes of God, as we read in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
    3. Acknowledge that even in those cases in which poverty is a consequence of “sin” or “foolish choices,” God doesn’t give us an out. God never tells us to help only those who deserve it. God commands us to help (see the above verses if you question that). Before you whine “That isn’t fair,” remember this: God poured grace on us before we deserved it, before we knew better, and even now when we defy clear commands and do what we want to do. God keeps forgiving, keeps loving, keeps helping us get back up on our feet and try again. We are to be imitators of God. Therefore, we ought to pour out God’s vulgar grace on everyone, especially those who don’t deserve it. They are just like us.They may not deserve it, they may not respond the way we want them to, but we do it anyway because that’s what God did for us. As God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, we are to be God’s hands and feet.

      “God loves us as we are, not as we should be, because none of us are as we should be.” Brennan Manning

      Making real change is messy and complicated and requires engaging with people. Standing back and throwing money into a situation rarely (maybe never) solves the root problems. It makes things worse. Read “When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself” before taking any action, whether in your town or across the world.

little girl and crayon wall in Sri Lanka

©2012 World Vision. Image credit Matthew Paul Turner.

  1. Recognize that people’s spiritual needs aren’t the only real, valid needs; we need to meet physical needs too and often first. Sometimes people object to humanitarian aid because they say that a person’s eternal destiny is more important than this life. This ignores the work of Jesus to reconcile and restore this physical world. Jesus healed the sick, he made water into wine, he pulled a coin out of a fish’s mouth to pay taxes. Jesus never taught that the physical world is irrelevant or secondary. Physical needs like food, safe drinking water, medical care, and jobs are real and important too. If you’ve ever been hungry or tired or sick or thirsty, you know how that overtakes your entire being. It’s impossible to think straight, let alone consider abstract concepts like sin and mercy and faith. Jesus met people’s physical needs first or at the same time that He addressed spiritual needs.
girl teaching Bible lesson in Bolivia

©2011 by Amy Connor for World Vision

What it all boils down to is the uncomfortable and inconvenient truth that we are accountable by God to help those in need. We are our brother’s and sister’s keepers. Jesus won’t accept your excuses that it was hard and smelly and unfulfilling, or that you thought someone else would do it, or that what you want is more important than the life-or-death struggle of people in poverty.

We are to love, as Jesus loved us. 1 John 3:16-18: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Poverty isn’t a simple problem. It doesn’t have a simple solution. But we can, indeed we must, do better.

Share Joy - Sponsor a Child in Sri Lanka

Bonus challenge

I know many of you are very active in meeting needs in your communities and around the world. But many of you are not. I’d like to challenge those of you who haven’t found a way to help the poor yet – sponsor a child. I have ten boys from Sri Lanka who need sponsors. Can we take care of them as an online community? (Why boys?Here’s why.)

Click the names below to view their information, then click “Read My Story” under the photo for more. When you sponsor one of these boys, email me at joy at joyinthisjourney dot com so I can update the list. Note: If you try to sponsor a child and get an error, it means that child has already been sponsored (and I haven’t had a chance to update the list yet). Use this link instead.

29 comments

  1. Oh Joy! AMEN AMEN AMEN! You are singing my song and speaking my language! I am so sick of people claiming that is not “their” ministry. Their ministry is decorating the church or some nonsense. YES IT IS! It belongs for ALL of us! We have a homeless ministry here in town. It wouldn’t cost anyone more than a little gas money to travel there and feed the homeless. Some folks won’t go because it wasn’t started by “their” church. There is a shortage of workers there right now but no shortage of women’s bible studies.
    When someone is lost you don’t ask them how they got there, you help them get out. Grace IS always for those who don’t deserve it! If we wait until someone earns it, it isn’t grace anymore.
    Thank you for this. Thank you for pouring yourself out and speaking out for those who need it most!

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  2. Thank you for this. It is so true and so needed. I hear these excuses so often and it breaks my heart. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  3. PREACH!! Amen! What a wonderful response.

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  4. Yes! Thank you so for this.

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  5. This post encapsulates how pissed off the modern church makes me. We see the people who need food, and we give them words–“I’ll pray for you.” Yes, there are needs in the American church and not all who need can be met through government programs here(again, the church fails). But those in the 3rd world don’t have the safety net of a stable government either.

    Reply
    • Donna

      Oh, Anna, I am so with you! As a worker on the ground in rural China, I am tired of people praying for God to “send laborers”. He IS sending them…the problem is they are not GOING! I want more people to ask God to open their own hearts to going not to send those “other” people. There ARE NO OTHER PEOPLE!

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      • Donna

        I think I meant to say “Sarah”.

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  6. Amen and amen! Thanks for stating this hard reality so well. We are so good at talking our way out of showing mercy. “We are to love, as Jesus loved us.”

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  7. I love this for it’s simple clarity.Thanks for putting it out there in way that’s hard to argue with.

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  8. Tell it like it is, sister! This has been so strong on my heart lately and you just put it all into words. Thank you for sharing something that Jesus tells us all to do. God bless you!

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  9. Ed

    Shane Claiborn said it best for me, “Get to know some poor people.” That alone has changed my life and how I relate with those who have less. In many cases, it’s more like we’re friends than anything else.

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  10. PREACH SISTER, PREACH!

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  11. Very well said. It is also good that you highlight about helping the poor in ways that doesn’t hurt you or them. It is so easy to develop a dependancy relationship and yet giving doesn’t have to result in that and certainly shouldn’t stop us doing so. Thoughtful, prayerful giving is important. Thinking about how to bring dignity in our giving is essential

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  12. Luke

    Yes.

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  13. Beautifully and clearly put, Joy. Thank you!

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  14. Joy, another connection in the text is Deut 15, this is what Jesus might have been pulling from in his words. God says there is enough on earth to feed all, if shared with justice (economic justice, equity), but since we won’t do it, He says the poor will be with us always and therefore, give all the time. I also think Jubilee points to the fact that God does not want a permanent poverty class, He envisions a way out of economic oppression every generation or so. Just my two bits… I’m with you, sister!

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  15. You nailed it. Absolutely nailed it. Proud to know you, Joy. Thank you for this.

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  16. Heidi Hatch

    This post is a keeper! I’ve heard these words so very many times in the past 10 years since God called me to serve the poor. It can be so frustrating….your blog post made me tear up. Thank you for sharing the story of God’s heart for the poor!

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  17. A hearty amen to all of this – you expressed it so well.

    Preach it!!

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  18. This is so similar to where I’ve ended up after a year of God chipping away at my selfish and comfortably-ignorant heart (I wrote about it last week here http://theelbowsofbelle.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/the-journey-part-two.html) – I love seeing God igniting similar fires around the world, and remembering that the poor are God’s children too, and God CARES.

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  19. oh how I love this post!!

    my heart has been breaking for the poor for some time now, and I’ve reached a point of just anger… flat-out anger, at the excuses, myths and indifference that we, as Christians have perpetuated about poverty and the poor.

    Thank you for putting this into terms that help me feel more empowered to make a difference, and to be able to pass along to others.

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  20. How fantastic. What a great encouragement for us to start properly implementing the faith that we have. I love especially from this how you used biblical passages to back up your points. I’ve meet people who said we should not be bothered by things like Fair Trade because poor people should be trying to get themselves out of their poverty. I was appalled, clearly goes against the love your neighbour principle!
    http://www.officiallyopinonated.posterous.com

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  21. 6. Shun politicians so do not consider the needs of the poor as high priority!

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  22. We certainly should help the poor. It is a matter for humankind. There is nothing inherently Christian about it.

    But Christians ought be on the front lines. I don’t know of anyone who is a really good steward of the gifts that God has given us. Myself at the top of the list.

    Job #1, for Christians, ought be handing over what people really need above all else. Christ Jesus. And then, roll up the sleeves and get to work in any way that you see fit.

    Thanks.

    – theoldadam.com

    Reply

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