How Can My Gift Make Poverty Worse?

Last time I blogged about poverty, I brought up the question, "How can my gifts of money and/or resources actually make things worse?"

One way to better understand this issue is to come to the realization that poverty is a lot more than a lack of money or resources. One leading Christian thinker in this area, Bryant Meyers, defines poverty this way, "Poverty is a 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" (Bryant L. Meyers, Walking with the Poor, p86. 2006, OMF Literature).

Given that definition, we see that money is not addressing the root issue of poverty which are broken relationships. And any solution that does not address the root issues does not really solve the core problem.

Just what are these relationships that have gone sour? Meyers lists four primary relationships that all humans have. First, we all have a relationship with God, whether or not we acknowledge that relationship or not.

Second, we have a relationship with ourselves, i.e. our emotional and intellectual understanding of who we are? Am I a child of God who is deeply loved or am I unloved and unimportant in this world? The difference is significant for all of us.

Third, we have a relationship with others, for example, family, friends, extended family, neighbors, society. And finally, we have a relationship with our environment, i.e. the physical world.

Poverty exists when these relationships are not what they ought to be. The question that I have to ask myself when I am giving money to someone is, "Am I detracting from any of these relationships with my gift?"

It takes a while to see and understand how gifts of money could be detrimental. If I give money to a poor man who I find out later is refusing to work because he believes that he can get more free gifts from me, I am hurting him rather than helping him. First, I am hurting his relationship with God because he is viewing me as "his God" rather than the true God who helps the poor. Second, I am marring his self identity by reinforcing the idea that he is helpless and unable to do things for himself. I am confirming his belief that he is worthless and incapable of helping himself with my gift to him, which so much as says, "you are unable to help yourself so I, the one that God does love, will help you."

Poverty is so much more than giving money and yet, money is needed to help alleviate poverty. But money given unwisely can hurt more than it helps. For anyone who wants to understand this better, there is a wonderful Christian book called, "When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor ... And Yourself" by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.