At the beginning of the Spring Semester, and the onset of the Mission Conference, a man walked onto the stage and preached about poverty. Going against the orthopraxy of a chapel-style, sermonesque messages, the speaker asked the audience “What comes to your mind when you think of poverty?” The audience shouted out their various epiphanies–no money, homelessness, lack of resources, and so on. Oh, and college students.
Someone from the audience shouted that poverty reminded them of college students. Perhaps jokingly, maybe seriously, but all together startling.
There is this hidden perception lurking in the halls of college dormitories whispering that college students are poor. Unfortunately, this completely misses the mark on what poverty is. Most people outside looking into poverty tend to describe it materially, as a lack of money, food, clothing, shelter, and so on, just as our faithful chapel attendees did. But those in poverty see their condition much more holistically. Poverty is associated with shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness.
Now let me address my college friends: we are not in poverty. We allude that we are poor, but our lack of finances does not come with the humiliation and shame that is attached to folks born, bred, and trapped in what seems a hopeless situation, poverty. At Cedarville we live in the lap of luxury–we have more food to eat than we recognize; we have shelter and community within our dorms; we have great technological resources at our disposal; we have teams of people trained to help us find professions; we have spiritual mentors looking over our shoulders for growth and maturity; we have an education that far exceeds most of the world’s; we have networked with people to help us succeed; we have the financial stability to enroll at Cedarville (let alone graduate); we will be able to find jobs when we graduate; we have a voice that is heard. Friends, we are not in poverty.
To be in poverty is to be without a voice. It is to be powerless to change your circumstance. It is to feel inferior. There is shame that is attached to poverty. There is hopelessness attached to poverty. There is depression attached to poverty. Our chapel speaker that day summarized the emotions surrounding poverty in one word: Brokenness.
The Bible is not absent of people crying to God out of brokenness, or God weeping for them. For instance, consider:
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’ ” (Isaiah 57:15)
God is near to the brokenhearted. He is concerned about their well being. The love of Christ reconciles people to God, and people to people. It can heal spiritual brokenness, but faith in God will not automatically break addictions, fix broken systems, create financial stability, end medical concerns, or provide food and shelter for someone. To think that that is true is simply lunacy. Thus the body of Christ (i.e., the Church, [i.e., you and I]) need to get involved. Of course our understanding of poverty as brokenness changes our solution. While financial providing for people is both typical and important, in and of itself that is not enough. We need to be in the business of rebuilding broken people by helping provide self-sustainability through resources. If you don’t recall what sorts of resources they would need, please refer to paragraph 4.
It is time to get our hands dirty, and be involved. The hands-off financial ministry is important, but spiritual, financial, physical, emotional advancement happens through relationships. Advancements happen when people take time to personally invest in your life. Even as college students, we have no excuse to ignore that. We cannot use our “poverty” as an excuse to overlook the broken locally and globally. One day, God will ask us how we have loved Him and loved others in our days; what will our excuse be then?
For more information, please read “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert