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“I’ve been thinking…,” Dwain said sheepishly, looking down at his tattoos and scars. I was driving Dwain (not his real name) to sign the papers and get the keys to his new apartment. This was the first place he had ever really had on his own. When my team found him, he was strung out on drugs and sleeping on the streets. He was in his early thirties, and all he had to show for his life to this point was a raging addiction and a string of broken relationships. Dwain had no family left to support him, no marketable skills, no hope, and no future.
Poverty is as much a mindset as it is an economic problem.
We took him into the program and started working with him to get clean and turn his life around. We began to coach him and help him find a job and a place to live. Most importantly, we took an interest in Dwain and let him know he had value. A few of the guys in the program began to build relationships with him, and in time he started thinking differently. For the first time in his life, the future was more than the next hit on the crack pipe. He began to plan for tomorrow and even started to believe that a normal life was possible for him. Soon he was off drugs and the streets.
Dwain and I drove in silence for a while; finally, I asked, “What are you thinking about?”
“I’ve been thinking…about the future,” he said, looking up and smiling as we pulled up to his new home.
Mindsets change when people see the value in it and in themselves
The thing that changed Dwain was not the incredible programs we had or the amazing twelve step program he was in, or any other system. What changed Dwain was around people who showed him that he has value. Being around people who were different challenged him and caused him to change his mindset and begin thinking about tomorrow.
Programs are useful, but what most people need is someone to come alongside them and help them to see life from a different perspective.
The story of Dwain is typical of those who are struggling emotionally and financially. Programs are useful, but what most people need is someone to come alongside them and help them to see life from a different perspective.
In her book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Dr. Ruby Payne argues that one of the main things people in poverty, particularly generational poverty, need is relationship with someone who is not in their economic class. Without those relationships, it is challenging for people to change because poverty is as much a mindset as it is an economic problem. She writes, “One of the key issues in making the transition from poverty to the middle class is…developing relationships with people who are different from you.”
What people need more than money is relationship
For most people, when they think about helping others out of poverty, they think about giving to a local shelter, or social workers and governmental programs. While those things are important, I would argue that they are not the whole solution to helping the poor. It takes more than giving money or programs to change a generational mindset, it takes a relationship, and the most effective organization on the planet at leveraging relationships is the local church!
The local church is uniquely positioned to meet the needs of people
1. God upholds the cause of the helpless.
Scripture is replete with references to how God cares for the poor and the powerless. One such passage is Psalm 146:7-9a: “He gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. The LORD frees the prisoners. The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are weighed down. The LORD loves the godly. The LORD protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows.” God cares deeply about the physical plight of people on this earth, and as believers so should we.
2. Our faith should move us to action.
James 2:14-17 says, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” If we say we have faith but don’t do anything to help those in our community who are in need, our faith is dead and useless.
3. We have the perspective people need.
There are larger things at play than simply helping people out of poverty. For the local church, we should be motivated to meet a physical need so that we will have the open door to meet the much deeper spiritual need. It’s great to help people out financially, but if people meet Jesus, everything about them will change! Poverty loses its hold on people when they know that they have a hope and a future in Jesus that is brighter than they ever could have imagined!
It is no surprise that a relationship is one of the most effective ways to change someone. Isn’t that how God chose to change us? He doesn’t require us to meet a code of conduct or to check off a moral to do list. Rather he invites us into a relationship, and that relationship changes everything about us. We can offer the same thing to people in our communities. We can give people worth and dignity by not only giving to the poor but by engaging them in relationship! When God looks at you, He sees that you have value and unlimited potential. Will you look at people in our community with those same eyes?