As part of our on-going relationship with The Healing Center Full Gospel Baptist Church, our congregation was invited to spend three Wednesday nights at their church in April. The focus of our time together, besides the wonderful opportunity to continue building relationships, was to take a serious look at poverty, particularly in our own community. We live in a county where almost 200,000 live in poverty. Now, for those of us who have homes in safe neighborhoods, food, clothing, a dependable job, money left over for vacations, etc., the idea of poverty……..is just that. It’s an idea, a notion, an issue that seems not to have any relevance for our daily lives.
In order to give us a glimpse of lives in poverty one night at The Healing Center, we employed an activity called Poverty Simulation. We were divided up at tables, and each group was to be a family for the purpose of the exercise. We were given $1500 (in Monopoly money) as our monthly income. Then we were given a sheet of paper listing our rent, food allowance, utility costs, clothing, debts, phone bill, etc. Our leader would tell us about things that happened to our family, some unexpected things that occurred for which we needed money. We had borrowed last month, but now we had to pay that back. Our car broke down, and we had to figure out how to manage our transportation needs while needing to pay for a repair. Someone in the family had to go to the hospital, missed work and lost wages. The list of obstacles to having enough money went on and on. We quickly found that we didn’t have enough money to last the month without giving up necessities.
During this experience, we had to come up with solutions for how we would cope on such a limited income with a myriad of needs. After trying to devise helpful solutions, most of us were still broke. One big question we were asked was how did that make us feel. Answers quickly came – words such as hopeless, afraid, bewildered, angry, sad, and desperate bubbled up around the room. Of course, no exercise can truly put us in the shoes of people who live in poverty daily, but it forced us to pay keener attention to a reality that is faced every single day in our city. Right here I want to say, don’t believe it when some folks tell you that poor people are poor because they’re lazy or shiftless, just don’t care, or you fill in the blank….. Yes, there have always been people who are content to live off of others. That happens everywhere in the world. But, the majority of people living in poverty are working more than one job and trying to cobble together enough money to make ends meet. They are living in run-down neighborhoods (that most of us would not enter) while struggling to maintain some semblance of dignity and self-worth.
A Christian Response to Poverty
I believe that it’s incumbent upon us as Christians, as people who say we want to bear God’s light in this world, to open our eyes to the needs around us and help find ways to change the lives of the least of these. The Bible has countless passages about our responsibility to aid the poor, the powerless, and downtrodden. Proverbs 14:31 “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” Proverbs 31:8-9 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Psalms 109: 30-31 “For He stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them.”
Just think what this world would be like if very self-professed Christians took this issue seriously and pitched in to help wherever they lived. I know that poverty has many causes and that it’s a tremendous problem everywhere, but our belief in God should arm us all with hope and provide us with the will to be His hands and feet in this world with which we’ve been entrusted.