While general principles and guidelines can be ascertained from scripture, the practical out working of a theology of social engagement with the poor is messy. Plans to alleviate poverty may appear cut and dry on a philosophical level, but quickly unravel on a practical level. Alleviating poverty happens best when those who are attempting to render aid are able to perceive the needs first-hand on a local basis.
The truth is that your dollar goes further to relieve poverty in third world countries than it does America and other industrialized nations because of the huge gap between living on a dollar a day and living on twelve to sixteen dollars a day. Sometimes it is easier to offer assistance in the third world because it seems like we can do more with less, but until we understand the issues surrounding specific instances of poverty we are more likely hurting those we intend to help. Poverty is seldom ever just a financial matter. More often than not throwing money at the problem will not fix it. In many cases there are other significant factors at work such as the Hindu Cast system in India and land laws in South America.
There is nothing wrong with rendering aid to people in the third world but a few guidelines should be followed:
- Be sure you are meeting your moral obligation to the poor who are within your own moral proximity. An individual or church that gives aid to relieve poverty in Africa but fails to minister to the poor in its own congregation and community is passing by Lazarus at the gate.
- Be sure to give through an organization that understands the issues surrounding the specific instances of poverty. Sometimes we can offer economic incentives that reward bad behavior and actually fuel the cycle of poverty rather than deliver people from it. The best solution is to work with someone who understands the ins-and-outs of a specific instance of poverty and can address the real issues.
- Remember the difference between Mission and Philanthropy. Mission involves the gospel. Philanthropy is rendering aide. There is nothing missionary about an endeavor to merely relieve poverty without offering the only real hope we have in Jesus. There is nothing wrong with Philanthropy, but we need to be careful to not mislead people into believing that they are supporting a missionary endeavor when the organization only meets physical need. A good mission organization will have a good balance of meeting needs and sharing the gospel.
Churches and individuals may choose to give generously beyond their moral obligation of proximity to help those who are in need around the world. This though should be understood as generosity and not a moral obligation. An individual may choose to adopt a child through an organization and send regular contributions to make sure that their child has adequate food, shelter, clothing and education. Churches may partner with ministries and churches in third world countries like India to feed slum children and provide them with a gospel lesson. However, whenever aid is rendered in this way it is generally well beyond their moral proximity, Church communities and individual Christians would be wise to be invested in an individual or organization who knows the specific instances of poverty that are being addressed. This would help insure that whatever aid it given is given in such a way as it not only addresses immediate needs such as hunger, but also looks to a long term solution.
What are you doing to relieve poverty in your community and around the world?
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