Wednesday, October 24, 2007

BEYOND CHARITY AND RELIEF
10 ways to love neighbors enough to break the cycle of poverty

BECAUSE GOD DOES. Recently, I was asked to endorse a book that admirably calls Christians to love neighbors in poverty. Not because it will make us feel good. Not because it’s desperately needed. Not because the cost of rotten outcomes will spiral if we don’t. But because it is what God does (and requires!). I know the book's author and his life rings true to what he writes.

RELIEF IS NOT ENOUGH FOR CHRISTIANS. I noticed, however, that the recommended 10 steps for action in the book's Appendix were focused almost entirely on relief. Relief alone as a response to poverty and a poor person is subchristian. Moving Christians beyond charity is one of the most important challenges of our day. As I pointed this out to the editors, they were gracious enough to ask me to include 10 actions that go beyond relief to address some of the sources of poverty with an intention to end it--at least for some neighbors. Here are 10 ways to love neighbors enough to break the cycle of poverty:

1. Break the cycle of generational poverty – Assist poor neighbors to acquire assets. In Assets and the Poor, Dr. Michael Sherraden demonstrates that assets like home ownership, a post-high school educational diploma or trade certification, or business ownership can break the cycle of poverty in one generation. For instance, Habitat for Humanity and urban neighborhood community development groups help neighbors who otherwise could not qualify in the housing market to build and own their own homes – an asset that can gain value and benefit their children.

2. Counsel for debt-free living – Commit to long-term financial planning, counsel and accountability with an individual or family that struggles with debt and poverty. Poverty is compounded by patterns of undisciplined spending, predatory lending, and unwise financial choices. Debt is a heavy burden, fomenting desperate acts and despair.

3. Break the yoke of human trafficking – Explore the work of International Justice Mission (http://www.ijm.org/), an organization that is committed to expose and end the practice of 21st-century slavery and human trafficking. Slavery is not a thing of the past. Debt slavery and the "sex trade," in particular, are crushing millions of lives today.

4. Tutor for skill development – Volunteer to serve in a local, community-based organization that helps neighbors end their poverty by offering educational tutoring, marketable skills training, and employment assistance. In West Indianapolis, Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center (http://www.maryrigg.org/) offers certified basic and advanced computer skills training; MRNC has helped hundreds of neighbors out of poverty through this initiative.

5. Advocate for livable wages and affordable housing – demonstrate your support for local, state, and national practices, policies and initiatives that make it possible for any person who works full time to be able to spend less than 50% of their income on basic housing costs.

6. Address addictions – Commit the time and care necessary to help one neighbor who struggles with a chronic addiction to find sobriety and then be an accountability partner with them as they maintain it. Addictions are one of the causes and perpetrators of poverty.

7. Start a community garden – This can become an important source of supplemental food for neighbors who experience poverty. Beyond building skills and growing needed food, community gardening builds community and mutual care among otherwise isolated neighbors (another kind of poverty that is rampant even among the so-called "rich").

8. Help an ex-felon find employment – Work options for persons who have been incarcerated are few, but solid employment is one of the most important factors in preventing recidivism and establishing a vice-free pattern/lifestyle and hopeful future. Perhaps you are in position to create employment for an ex-felon or to influence your employer's policies regarding this. See what you can do; try!

9. Participate in food recovery – Recovered food not only reduces waste, it helps supplement the market-rate food supplies for millions of people who grapple with poverty. Find out about food banks and organizations that recover prepared but unused food and distribute it to hungry neighbors. Locally, Second Helpings (http://www.secondhelpings.org/) not only recovers prepared food and serves thousands daily, its culinary arts training school prepares at-risk neighbors for employment.

10. Recognize responsible corporate neighbors – While many locally-owned and nationally-known businesses make no such attempts, some for-profit organizations try to be responsible neighbors and participate in local and global efforts to relieve, reduce and end poverty. Find out who they are and lift up their example for all others to see. Beyond being a basic spiritual principle (Isaiah 58), this just makes good community and economic sense.

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