When I ask you to picture what poverty looks like what comes to mind? Would it be of an African famine, a homeless person from your local community or a large, crowded slum found in countries like India?
Our perceptions of poverty are fundamental to how we then approach tackling it. For many people, these perceptions are shaped and informed by the media; charity adverts or TV appeals such as Comic Relief. The images seen in the media, of people living with hunger, disease, and exploitation are powerful, and influence many to take action. However, through our projects and the communities we work alongside, The Salvation Army International Projects Office have learnt much more about the reality of poverty and how to best address it.
It can be easy for us to only look at poverty as something material, as merely a lack of food, water, income or shelter. It is those things, but that is a narrow and incomplete definition. The reality is that we can all experience poverty of some kind.
Bryant Myers, a leading development thinker, believes that, ‘Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of Shalom in all its meanings.’
According to Myers, poverty exists because of the broken relationships between us and God, ourselves, each other, and the rest of creation. This means that poverty exists for one or more of the following reasons:
· We are not living in the way that God intended.
· We are not aware of our own abilities and capacity to bring about change.
· We do not do live in a way which supports and respects others.
· We are not being good stewards of the resources we have been given.
If we look at poverty in this way, then we can all start to identify areas of poverty within our own lives. By accepting that poverty is more than material, and that we haven’t got everything right, we can start to address the problems in our local and global communities in a more humble and equal way.
But how do we tackle poverty in a way which honours God and his people? In Colossians 1:15-20 it shows that God reconciled everything to him through Christ. This process of reconciliation involves restoring those broken relationships that exist in our lives, community and world. It means being good stewards over our creation, treating each other with honour and respect, and acknowledging the gifts and skills we each have. It also means recognising where we fall short, and trusting that God will do what we cannot.
We want to see people’s lives transformed. The barriers of food, water, income – these symptoms of extreme poverty – need to be overcome. Not to make us feel self-important about helping “those poor people” but to ensure that everyone may live life in all its fullness.
This is why it is so important for The Salvation Army to be involved in tackling material poverty. We, the Church, are called to be actors in the task of reconciliation and restoration. There are limits to what we can do – some of it we need to leave to God. But when we seek to tackle poverty, let us approach it with a sense of equality and partnership. For we are all equal under God, we all have things to offer, and things we can learn from others. Let us keep moving closer to what God intended us to be, as individuals, churches, communities and nations, and help others to do likewise. That’s how we can truly eradicate poverty in all its forms.
Find out more about how The Salvation Army supports people to tackle their poverty: www.salvationarmy.org.uk/ipo or follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/TSAProjects), Twitter (@TSA_IPO) or Instagram (@TSAProjects).
Hayley Still, UK Engagement Co-ordinator