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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Attitudes Towards the Poor

When participating in mercy ministries, it is requisite to understand what the word “poverty” means. I have found myself susceptible to the common problem of defining poverty merely as a lack of material resources. However, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert ask us to pursue a more robust understanding of poverty: “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.” [1] Poverty is the direct result of human brokenness and entails broken relationships with God, self, others, and creation. [2]

A necessary consequence of this definition is to understand that each of us experiences poverty in different ways. For those of us involved in mercy ministries, a recognition of our own poverty is especially humbling. I am not there to save the people I am ministering to. During the beginning of my time at Emmanuel, I found the assumption that I was there to fix a problem to be overwhelming. “How do I fix all of this? What do I have to say to the pain these people have experienced? This is beyond me.” The fact I experience my own poverty in these same relationships means I can’t fix the problems I encounter at Emmanuel. Such a realization is freeing and as the Holy Spirit impresses this upon me, it will open me more to minister to those at Emmanuel as equals.

It also provides a reference point to understanding their experiences. Often, I assume I have little to say because I have not experienced homelessness or the amount of pain many of these people have. While I have not had the same experiences they have, my own poverty creates a reference point from which I am able to imagine their pain. From my pain, I can empathize with and have compassion for my fellow image-bearers.

I must confess, I rarely minister from this space. Typically, I act as I am supposed to fix all of the problems that come into Emmanuel, a notion which inevitably causes anxiety and makes it more difficult to serve. I also assume I have little in common with these people. I do not believe I assume superiority, but merely assume I cannot relate to them. As the Holy Spirit reveals my own poverty to me and makes room in my compassion for them, my ability to minister to them will increase. The important first step, however, is to repent of these attitudes and allow the Gospel to reshape how I see my fellow image-bearers. As Corbett and Fikkert said: "Without such repentance, our efforts to help the materially poor are likely to do harm both to them and to us. Without such repentance, our efforts to help the poor will continue to be characterized by providing material resources to the poor, rather than walking with them in humble and relational ways as we call on King Jesus to fix the root causes of both of our poverties." [3]

Because we all experience levels of poverty, Christ came to fix all of our broken relationships and poverty, including material expressions of poverty and broken relationships with creation. “The point is simply that, for His own glory, God has chosen to reveal His kingdom in the place where the world, in all of its pride, would least expect it, among the foolish, the weak, the lowly, and the despised.” [4] Christ came for me and for them, for us, to repair all of our broken relationships and heal the poverty we all experience. One of those relationships for me is how I relate to the materially poor. In Christ, I can see my need just as much as theirs and recognize the common human experiences we share. Each week at Emmanuel, I am not there only to fix a problem, but primarily find myself being healed of my own brokenness.

[1] Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts, p. 59

[2] Ibid. p. 55

[3] Ibid. p. 248

[4] Ibid. p. 42

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