Friday, August 19, 2011

“In idleness there is perpetual despair.”

Today, I'm excited about an initiative from...

When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor... and Ourselves

by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Check it out on if you like.

This book lays out Biblical principles and practical advice for alleviating poverty both in the majority world and in North America. Poverty, however, is not understood merely as material, but as spiritual and psycho-social. In short, poverty is understood in the context of a person's relationship to God, to herself, to others, and to the world. From this standpoint, the authors encourage their readers to (a) empower/enable the poor to work towards their own relief or development--spiritually, personally, socioeconomically, and so forth.

But I'm not here to write about the book itself, though I highly recommend it, for I am terrifically excited about the following initiative:

Sponsor the (urban) poor to work, part-time, for the ministry or members of the ministry.

A sponsorship might look like this—

· I have a friend/contact, Tiana (or Joe), who is searching for but unable to find a job.

· My church secretary (or maybe a local carpenter, etc) is willing to take her on and show her the ropes.

· Tiana agrees to work part-time—10 or so hours a week—under strict stipulations, like promptness and good behavior, for a set period of time. If she meets the stipulations, she is guaranteed help with job searching, resume writing, and cover letters, and she gains an excellent reference.

· The church pays her $3 an hour; I sponsor her for $6 an hour.

· MEANWHILE another woman could be sponsored to do childcare for the first… do you see where this is going?

Now what’s so exciting about a sponsorship? As we said at my college writing center, “we make better writers, not better papers.” In short, sponsorships enable people to work—and alleviate their own material, spiritual, and psycho-social poverty. Let’s break it down to show how!

· Principle of Inertia—Physics and psychology seem to have a few things in common: a person in motion stays in motion, and a person at rest stays at rest, until acted upon by an outside force. A person at rest (a.k.a. in a state of joblessness, and perhaps in a mental rut of shame and inadequacy) feels powerless to make a positive change, and therefore does obtain a job. But if they get a little momentum going—if an outside force offers a viable part-time job—they will feel empowered to do more things crucial for their psycho-social-economic wellbeing. This principle is well illustrated in counseling practices, when a depressed patient is encouraged to do the little things—like shower and practice dental hygiene—so that they will be affirmed by successfully completing something, and feel enabled to tackle more challenging tasks.

· To those who have, more will be given; to those who have not, what they have will be taken away—This Scripture verse (see Luke 19:26) always scared me a bit, but we see this principle in real life. Those who have things, like money or connections, can easily acquire more via interest and networking. Get ‘em a job so they can get a job!

· Alleviate the poverty of the human spirit—Each person will not be working in a hostile environment, but in a place where others are genuinely invested in their success. Christian companionship will not only tutor them in the ethics and skills of the workplace, but also in the greater work of knowing and serving God.

· Kill the God-complex—Corbett and Fikkert remind us that we middle- and upper-class Americans are also impoverished. We also lack a perfect relationship with God, ourselves, others, and the world. Sponsoring someone takes an act of faith; I currently only have a part-time job making $10 an hour. Yet Scripture tells us,

You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God… Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else” (2 Cor. 9:11-13).

My friends, you now know what I’m excited about. Get excited yourselves in the service of the Lord—and keep me accountable to put my passion into prayer, and my prayer into place, so that sponsorships might become a reality in Pittsburgh, PA!

Send me your comments and critiques, buckeroos! Becca is signing off.