A brief look back over the history over the world or turning on the nightly news will reveal the pain of people caused by the actions of others. It can be simply stated: People have caused the impoverished lifestyle experienced by so many in the world through harmful acts. Some cyclical poverty is the result of well-meaning assistance that has perpetuated dependency, unintentionally making things worse. Other people are trapped in communities of poverty through corrupt policies and a lack of rule of law. Worse, history is full of the evil of some to oppress, steal from and enslave people resulting in deadly poverty.
While Christians can debate the proper response to poverty, the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is redeeming the lives of people. It is through the work of God that a person is forgiven of sin and transformed in being. This is the starting point for breaking the cycle of poverty as the values of the person, and potentially the society, are changed and the person begins to understand the true value of a person made in the image of God, which demands dignity and respect. The moral foundation that Jesus Christ provides in a person’s life makes a person an instrument of righteousness, seeking the good of others and the community, the source of prosperity.
The opposite of poverty, prosperity, must be more than just financial gain, as additional money each month does not equate into transformative living of improved housing, proper education and nutrition, or redeemed purpose in life. It is the eternal perspective of life that propels Christians to seek the holistic prosperity—body, mind and soul—of all people. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Joyful Christian, “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither” (PovertyCure DVD series, v. 5; 20:17). Therefore, while people have been the cause of poverty in the world, we (all of us) are also the solution!
The Church needs to invest itself in the deploying of vocational power through the training of people to produce goods and services based on their giftedness and resources. This is best accomplished through a partnership with Christians, churches and leaders who are living in the community, allowing them to set the agenda for the development desired.
Another form of investment is the administration of small loans (micro) and mid-size loans (“Small and Medium Enterprises,” or SMEs). Instead of aid in the form of handouts, microfinance is the active participation in the development of the person’s business so that the loan is not used for consumption, which would leave a person poorer in the end, but rather used to expand opportunities to create products and services that produce income to pay for their own needs. Mid-size companies especially need the investment of capital, as achieving credit can be too expensive as individuals often lack the collateral to secure proper credit. Christ-based institutions can partner with these entrepreneurs to expand their ability to employ workers and create new markets with which to conduct business. With these investments, the focus is not on the money invested but rather upon people as the solution: “human beings are much more than a mouth that consumes; human beings are minds that create and produce…” (Rev. Robert Sirico, PovertyCure DVD series, v. 2; 25:27). People create wealth; we have been endowed by God to steward the multiple resources of God’s creation.
What is lacking is the fertile soil that allows enterprise to occur, more than just access to capital: issues of justice such as private property rights and rule of law that allow for people to grow a business (Michael Matheson Miller, Poverty Cures DVD series v. 3; 01:40). The discouragement of injustice causes people to not try to better themselves, as the corrupt rule of might is able to take it all away without reason. Justice provides the foundation to develop private property and rule of law so that families can steward their God-given resources, and escape the trap of poverty through the establishment of capital to build their enterprises. Poverty is not limited to a low-income but also extends to being excluded from the business of exchange, education systems, restricted to one locale, lack of freedoms and the products of free trade.
The Church should encourage only the action steps that promote individuals to produce more goods and services each year, as this is in agreement with other poverty-solution books such as “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor or Yourself” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert (2009), and mission organizations such International Justice Mission. In the end, people can be both the cause of poverty and the solution to produce holistic prosperity. Each person must use their head and their heart to determine how to best love his or her neighbor into a righteous prosperity.