Uprooting Poverty: The Perspective of Christian Faith

[“SHARE” OCT – DEC 2018 ] FOCUS ~ Christian Response to Poverty

Written by: Raymond Kwong (CEDAR’s Chief Executive) and Jady Sit

In recent years, the international development sector began to emphasise the importance of human inner transformation for uprooting poverty. For instance, Cornell University Professor Kaushik Basu, who serves as the chief economist of World Bank from 2012 to 2016, shared in a public lecture, that no matter what kind of models of poverty alleviation is, one of the key factors to its success is whether people are willing to let go of some of their own interests or economic benefits and seek higher purposes, with which human being in general are common, and so, he advocates strengthening values education in society. This is about changing hearts and minds.

Impoverishment is a consequence of mankind’s broken relationship with God, with each other, and with the rest of the Creation. This broken relationship does not limited to the poor, but also to the non-poor. That is to say, for the sake of ending poverty, inner change has to happen with both the haves and the have-nots.

To the disadvantaged, poverty is more than destitution in meeting basic needs, it robs people from all aspects of their well-being. It causes damages to human dignity and confidence, and brings about hurts and depression. An obvious sear of poverty and injustice among the poor is hopelessness. Hopeless mindset could easily be carried over from generation to generation. Therefore, interventions aiming at breaking intergenerational poverty cannot go without restoration of
hope. Julie’s story is a good example. Julie is a 17 years old Indian girl living in a garbage dump in New Delhi of India. Her family belongs to the lowest caste Dalit (or widely known as “the untouchable”), and is extremely poor. The family earns their living by sorting and selling garbage waste. Julie has never been to school. Through our partner’s ministry, Julie has gained back hope, and now dreaming of changing her family’s lives. (For details of the story, please go to the “Join Hands, Join Hearts” section.)

Change the Use of Power

On the other side of the world, like Hong Kong, where people don’t have to live a hand-to-mouth life, a heart to share with and care for others has to be nurtured further. In terms of power, the non-poor are people who possess relatively more power, as they have more resources in hands. Power could be used for good and for bad. A self-centred heart among the non-poor could result in oppression for the sake of maximising personal benefits. However, willingness to share power with those who have little could make a huge difference to the needy. In fact, letting go of power (it can be anything from wealth, materials, rights, to political power) is the model that Jesus Christ continuously demonstrated in his 3-year ministry on earth. As the Son of God, he possesses all the authority over all creations, but he humbles himself to become human for the sake of saving us from sins. At the time of arrest, Jesus said this, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mat. 26:53). Instead, he chose to give up that authority and died shamefully on the cross. This is the role model we are asked to follow.

It is obvious that change in hearts and minds does not follow a particular mechanical process. Instead, it is often the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we Christians are strategically positioned to offer a more comprehensive solution to tackle both symptoms and root-cause of poverty. Take the ministry of our partner Eden Ministry as an example. Eden Ministry makes contact with sex workers in red light districts, rescues victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, and provides counselling and vocational training to them. What makes Eden Ministry distinct is that they also meet with procurers (madams and pimps), who are relatively in power in the exploitation of sex works, when they are outreaching. Christian faith tells us that all men and women are beloved children of God. We are all sinners before our Lord. From the perspective of anti-human trafficking and anti-sexual exploitation, helping procurers transform their mindset and
values enables them to realise their true identity as God’s noble children, as such they are encouraged to change their use of power in the industry.

Colleagues and beneficiaries of Eden Ministry pain the wall of the centre together
Colleagues and beneficiaries of Eden Ministry pain the wall of the centre together

Joanne, a staff of Eden Ministry Hong Kong, said that such transformative work is surely not an easy task. It is like the parable of the wandering sheep. The good shepherd will leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off. The process of finding and healing is undoubtedly long and requires great patience. Joanne said, “After we get in touch with the pimps, we take a long time to establish relationship and communicate with them. We ask God to intervene to transform their distorted values. Even though we will encounter setbacks during the process, we believe they will bring a big change (to their workplace) once their inner selves are transformed.”

Breaking through Stereotypes

Similarly, the marginalised poor who are discriminated by society can break through the inner bondage of traditional stereotypes by knowing that they are created in God’s image.  Prasad, who lives in a slum of Bangladesh, said, “I am a cleaner. My parents are also cleaning workers. After I finished 10th grade, I dropped out of school. I had a dream to complete university and work in a better position. But this dream was shattered by the financial situation of our family.” Prasad continued, “Because we are cleaners and belong to the lowest caste (Dalit), everyone in the community does not make contact with us. It is difficult for us to participate in community gatherings.” Prasad’s family often feels that they are inferior because of long-term stigmatisation. But, Prasad’s parents has always taught him to trust God and make peace with others.

“I learned how to pray from my parents and grew up going to church and Sunday school. I feel that I have a special relationship with Jesus. I loved learning songs, dances, and Bible stories on Sundays. My childhood aspiration was to teach children about Christ, so that they can lead a life following Jesus. Children are like white papers. They will follow what they have been taught the rest of their lives.” Prasad is now a Sunday school teacher in an education programme supported by our partner, World Concern Bangladesh. He is always moved by the purity of children and tries to build them up in God’s words. He also shares the love of God with the children and their families, encouraging them to live a Christ-like life. Although the society sees Prasad as a “the untouchable”, his faith strengthens his heart every day to faithfully serve the children and the community. Prasad not only overcomes the social stigmas of the poor, but he also becomes an agent of change to the community.

Prasad realises his childhood dream: to teach children about Jesus Christ
Prasad realises his childhood dream: to teach children about Jesus Christ

Poverty alleviation and development work should not be limited to satisfying the material needs of the poor. Spiritual transformation of both the impoverished and the well-to-do is the ultimate key to poverty eradication. With regard to the holistic approach to poverty eradication, we, as Christians, have a unique role to play. This is why CEDAR adopts the principle of “From Church, Through Church”. In the coming issue of SHARE, we will share more about CEDAR’s education ministry in local Christian churches and schools and how they are changed to embrace God’s mission to the world.

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