It is not uncommon for the complex issue of poverty to be reduced to the lack of possessions, or the physical resources we need to survive. However, in reality, a lack of material things is a symptom of poverty as a wider experience. Indeed any one of us can be poor in some way.
Bryant Myers suggests that poverty is the result of a breakdown of four key relationships that God intended for us; primarily with God himself and flowing from this, relationships also with other people, with creation, and with ourselves.
If we recognise that poverty comes from the breakdown of these relationships, and that the fruits of such brokenness might include things as large as war or famine or conditions as personal as loneliness or greed, then it is possible to see how we all might experience some form of poverty.
Indeed, those people who would be considered poor in the traditional sense, struggling with material poverty, may in fact be rich in other ways. The value they place on community, for example, may mean they have not experienced the same heart-breaking loneliness that is becoming increasingly prevalent in our own society.
This understanding that everybody can experience poverty of different kinds is fundamental to the way that The Salvation Army International Projects Office approaches its work. It is important that we don’t consider ourselves to be saviours - assuming that we know what is best, or arbitrarily giving handouts. This is not sustainable and it ignores the wealth of skills, experience and resources that already exist within the communities that we work alongside.
Focusing on the gifts of a person or community, as opposed to their needs, changes both the way in which we perceive them and the way we, as benefactors, respond. Therefore, the projects we support seek to empower people to bring about their own change, using the gifts and abilities – the riches – that they already have.
This approach is rooted in Scripture. The story in 2 Kings 4:1-7, of a widow who approaches the prophet Elisha for help, is a great example of this way of working. In desperation, thinking she has nothing, the widow cries out to Elisha for help as a creditor is coming to take her two sons to be his slaves, in payment of her late husband’s debts. Rather than ignoring the woman’s plight, or simply giving the woman money to pay the debt, Elisha responds by asking, “What do you have in the house?”
Though she thinks she has nothing, Elisha helps her to see that this is not true. Above all she has God, but she also has her sons, she has the jar of oil, and she has her neighbours who are each willing to lend a vessel or two. Soon, she has a room full of jars of oil which she can sell to pay her debts and keep her sons from slavery.
Through the humility of the woman, willing to reach out to Elisha, and the generosity of her neighbours, God worked a miracle in this family’s life. It is still the truth today, that through the reconciliation of broken relationships and by God working through us that poverty and injustice will be brought to an end.
Through the projects we support, we often hear of communities coming together to overcome their material poverty. Katamari Mary’s story is a great example of how people can use and share the skills and resources they have to lift themselves out of material poverty. Click here to read the story.
Projects like the one working alongside Katamari’s community in Zimbabwe highlight that that it is not a short-lived (albeit generous) hand out that will bring about lasting change, but a recognition that it is working together - recognising the skills and resources that we can all contribute - that will make a meaningful difference.
Find out more about the work of The Salvation Army International Project Office, by visiting www.salvationarmy.org.uk/ipo or following us on Facebook (facebook.com/TSAProjects), Instagram (@TSAProjects), or Twitter (@TSA_IPO).