God intended humans to have healthy and active relationships with Him, ourselves, others and the rest of creation. Unfortunately when the fall occurred in the Garden of Eden, all four of these foundational relationships were broken. This is the root of poverty. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert in When Helping Hurts explain “Poverty is the 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” (page 59). This means every human on the planet experiences poverty. Material poverty is just one manifestation of the broken relationships we experience in a fallen world. This understanding is critical for anyone who is working with the materially poor, and has become foundational in the vision of For the Love of Missions.
Corbett and Fikkert explain the different types of poverty with this diagram found on page 58 of their book.
It is crucial for people attempting to alleviate material poverty to recognize their own brokenness or they run the risk of causing great harm to both the materially poor they are trying to help and themselves. Imagine this scenario, which For the Love of Missions has seen played out in Guatemala City multiple times.
A well-intentioned North American goes on a short term mission trip to the Guatemala City garbage dump to help people living in poverty. They believe they have answers and resources and solutions to problems facing those living in poverty so they provide food, clothing, build a roof, or install a stove. All the while, the Guatemalan who already feels discarded by their society is told without words that they are not successful in providing for their family and cannot solve their own problems. Of course, they are grateful for the provision of the needed items, but subconsciously their feelings of low value and self-worth are reinforced while the North American’s subconsciously has reinforced their feelings of self-importance.
This is not to discount the incredible struggles of the materially poor, but to highlight the need to be aware and on guard about the strategies and tools used to engage in poverty alleviation. For the Love of Missions recognizes we constantly walk a delicate path with the Holy Spirit’s guidance.