No Simple Solutions

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“Poverty is extremely complex. Picture the poor caught in a spider-web of interwoven causes that trap them hopelessly while the marauding spiders of hunger, war, disease, ignorance, injustice, natural disasters, and exploitation prey upon them unrestrained. While there are solutions to poverty- ways to free them from the web- there are no simple solutions.”

Richard Stearns, A Hole in Our Gospel.

Poverty Alleviation Strategies

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There will be as many different strategies to alleviate poverty as there are people who are drawn to the concept. Building on the definition of poverty from a few days ago (read here https://fortheloveofmissionsblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/poverty/), Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert define poverty alleviation as “the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.”

They go on to explain there are three approaches to poverty alleviation: Relief, Rehabilitation and Development. Relief is the provision of immediate needs after an emergency or crisis situation. Rehabilitation is the process of restoring people to their pre-crisis situation. Development is the process of walking in relationship as all those involved (the helper and the helped) move towards right relationships with God, self, others and the rest of creation.

I like to use the example of a natural disaster to demonstrate this. A tornado (or flood or hurricane) comes and takes out your home, you are in immediate need of relief: food, clothing, shelter, medical care. After the initial crisis, you enter in a process of rehabilitation in which you return to the situation you were in before the crisis hit. Finally development comes after the crisis is over as you move into a process of growth toward right relationships with God, self, others and the rest of creation.

Fikkert and Corbett challenge “One of the biggest mistakes that North American churches make- by far is in applying relief in situations in which rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention.” Those who travel to areas of extreme material poverty see the need and want to help because it would be an emergency for us to live like that, unfortunately it is not an emergency but everyday life for people living in material poverty. North Americans want to react to their feeling of emergency with relief, but it is sending the wrong message to all involved. We, as North Americans, cannot continue to provide relief in situations where development is needed. Great damage is being done to the helpers and the helped when this happens.

A New Look at an Old Parable

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Martin Luther King Jr. challenged the church then and now in his sermon  “A Time to Break the Silence” (Riverside Church, New York, April 4, 1967).

We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside… but one day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that a system that produces beggars needs to be repaved. We are called to be the Good Samaritan, but after you lift so many people out of the ditch you start to ask, maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be repaved.

 

For the Love of Missions is on a journey to discover what this looks like for the people in the Guatemala City garbage dump. It is definitely a journey to discover the intersection of truth and grace as we walk in relationship with people who feel as if they have been discarded by society.

 

 

Alex

It is a blessing to be a part of For the Love’s Ministry, where I can have a decent job and I can supply for my basic needs to be able to keep on going in the midst of difficulties that I can find in life. At this job we read daily devotionals. This is part of the spiritual growth that I found in this place. I am very thankful for this opportunity at For the Love. –Alex Cuy

Alex

 

Alex is a 42 year old man who works at the artisan jewelry business For the Love of Missions started in January 2014. Before Alex started working at For the Love of Missions, he was homeless (Can you imagine being homeless in the garbage dump?), but with the first paycheck he received he was able to rent a room and get off the street. Alex shows incredible focus and attention to detail; he has solved several problems in the artisan process of creating the jewelry. He is always thinking and when he is ready he asks questions.

In June 2014, Alex came to For the Love of Missions and apologized for not being completely truthful on his original job application. He said he did not list all of his education as he thought that it would have prevented him from having the opportunity. He actually has completed the technical portion of his high school education. In Guatemala, at about 16 years old the student moves to a specific focus to complete their high school degree. Alex’s technical degree is in accounting. He was now interested in applying to the public university in Guatemala City to work on an auditing degree.

While he was not able to start when he originally planned, in July 2015 Alex enrolled in the university. Alex recently said, he doesn’t know why For the Love of Missions picked him, but the reason he is now going to the university is because the ministry believed in him.  For the Love of Missions is so proud of him and excited to see how he grows through this new path!

 

Poverty

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.

Broken Relationships Image

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.

Guatemala City Garbage Dump

A violent 36 year civil war, which ended in 1996, greatly scarred Guatemala. Many rural areas of the country were destroyed by fighting, and many of these communities lost their young men to both the guerilla and government armies. During and after the civil war, individuals and families migrated to urban areas in the hopes of safety and economic opportunity. Unfortunately, the governments of these urban areas were unprepared for this growth. Squatter communities grew in undesirable locations in the city, and with the end of the civil war the militias were released without direction creating gangs of armed men in areas of great material poverty.  P1000933

One of these squatter communities developed in the area surrounding the Guatemala City garbage dump. The Guatemala City garbage dump is the largest landfill in Central American. Thousands of people called “guajeros” go into the garbage dump each day to search for recyclables that can be to be sold. Often they work for 12 hours 6 days a week for just a few dollars a day. In many cases, this is the only income for a family living in this community. While the city now requires a permit in order to enter the landfill to do this work, many sneak in illegally just for the opportunity to find something of value to sell. In addition to the unimaginable conditions of working in a garbage dump, there is much danger. Garbage truck accidents, landslides, fires, and violent competition face the guajeros every day.P1000938

The community that developed around the landfill is also marked by much danger. In addition to the difficult living conditions of makeshift housing, dirt floors, and the constant smell of garbage, the city government has labeled the area a “red zone” which designates a high level of crime, drugs, and gang activity and limits the education and employment opportunities for those with an address in the red zone.

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For the Love of Missions has learned through time and relationship of the many challenges facing people living in this community. We work to facilitate economic opportunities for people living in this community. Go to www.fortheloveofmissions.org to learn about how we build relationships through economic opportunities to transform the generational cycles of poverty.