DIFFERENT KINDS OF POVERTY
There are different kinds of poor people, different ways people experience poverty, and different ways they respond to it.
Some people are momentarily poor, due to a sudden circumstance that throws them into some need they find difficult to meet or satisfy by themselves at that particular moment. This can be anything from being robbed of your wallet in a strange city, to being the victim of a hurricane or tornado that wipes out your home; or any event or dynamic that suddenly forces you to need help from others. These moments can be terrifying, fill you with grief over your loss, give you panic, overwhelm you with feelings of desperation. They don’t usually permanently define you or destroy your self-image, and if you live through the moment might even give you a sense of resilience.
I don’t mean to be casual or careless about such moments. For many people such moments are traumatic and even life changing, but unless one falls into depression over it most people pull out of it if they have the spiritual, emotional, social, and familial resources to help them, though they might need outside intervention even to survive through the first hours, days, or weeks.
Some people are aspirationally poor, and due to their circumstances are in a context of scarcity and want, yet have the ethic, the ambition, and the hope to pull out of such a context. Not everyone in aspirational poverty is successful in this effort. They may be in such a context where their freedom is limited, their resources almost non-existent, and out of time or health to change things. When one is aspirationally poor and have their attempts to change their situation crushed, discouraged, or denied by powers they cannot thwart they can eventually be made to feel as if they are in some way cursed, or inferior.
Yet, when those obstacles are removed or overcome they can thrive. We see many such people in developing countries who have nothing, but when given the opportunity are able to grab it and improve their lot. We see this in immigrants who overcome the obstacle of living in a context of no opportunity by moving to a context where their efforts are met with reward.
We see others in generational poverty,where the value system that leads to a strong work ethic, personal ambition, and hope are crushed at an early age. These folk are usually in families that no longer function as a healthy family, no longer providing the nurture and encouragement children need nor the complementary discipline to emotionally mature them. They live in families where no one seems to be sacrificing or delaying their gratification, but only learning to survive, and even pulling each other back down if someone seems to be making progress.
If the systems that make up the context in which such individuals live are also failing (extended family, education, neighborhood, religious, municipal) it is difficult for such individuals to climb out of this kind of poverty on their own. Even if they were given the same amount of help say a person in circumstantial poverty might have been given, or someone in aspirational poverty might have been given, it will not usually bear the same positive results. I think I need to add another category, and this one would be chronic poverty. This could arise from any of the preceding causes of poverty but is especially aggravated when the person or family that is poor doesn’t have the value system to take advantage of help that is given. Chronic poverty is a problem for families, churches, and governments because these folks may need sustained help over the years. Widows, orphans, physically or mentally handicapped individuals may need years of supplemental help from their church. It takes a willful effort to be there for them over the long haul.
Still another is the poverty of soul. This is exactly opposite of what it means to be poor in spirit. To have a poverty of soul means to be in the process of losing it by attempting to gain the whole world, or even by building one’s life on the things of the world. Poverty of soul means to be someone who in his mind says, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. “ But they do not realize that they, “…are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (This according to Jesus in Revelation 3:17.) In this context it is a local church, which helps us see we can do this as individuals and as groups. We often self-segregate to groupings similar to ourselves.
All five of these groups need the missional love of the Church of Jesus Christ through the preaching and living out of the Gospel. The Church should be there for people who suffer from disaster, we should be quick to respond. The Church should be there in communities around the world that exist in a context of scarcity, and we can help them not only with material resources but with teaching them skills to grab hold of the resources they actually already hold in their own hands. We should be there for the immigrant to help them get up on their feet, on which they seem so determined to walk. We should be there in historically devastated communities and build a new context for them in the planting of the church, creating a new sense of family and new value system as they come to Jesus, and in turn creating a new community.
We should be there for the rich man, and the well off, and the smug and self-satisfied to show them the shallowness of their lives, and the danger of an eternity without God. We should be there to show them the joy of generosity, the greatness of living for something other than ourselves, and to proclaim to them that all of us are absolutely beggars in our souls if we don’t have God. Jesus holds the answer for every kind of poverty.