The Quest to End Poverty in America Part 2

It can be done

Being poor might actually be the oldest profession.  I mean Adam and Eve did not even have clothing until after the fall.  That is when God intervened and conducted the first sacrificial offering to help those in poverty.  Many over the ages have noticed the plight of the poor and were touched by God to do something about the issue of poverty.  Yet, it is still here about 7000 years or so after creation.  What can we possibly do about it?  Of course most of us feel bad about people sleeping on sidewalks, under bushes and otherwise not eating good food.  If we think about them while we are sitting down to dinner in our warm homes surrounded by loving family with lots of laughter we might feel a twinge of guilt.  It is easy though to shrug it off and say, “Well they made choices.” Many would then add in a wide assortment of labels for these men and women like addict, bum, hobo or any wide range of derogatory terms and then we feel better about enjoying the blessing of our home and hearth.

     We might think, “Well I can’t do anything about it so why even try.”  I know that I have felt guilty sitting at a banquet with servers bringing me refills of tea or coffee while I hear a presentation about the plight of those in poverty.  It is not my intention today to induce guilt.  That guilt is already there.  Isn’t that part of the reason that you don’t look at the panhandler at the intersection that is looking at you while the light refuses to change to green.  While it is not our intention, we hurt for our fellow man but just simply feel unequipped to actually do something about the crisis.  The purpose of this book is to encourage you to do something.  Take action today toward this quest of ending   poverty in this most wealthy and powerful of nations.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

-James 1:22

Note:  I do recognize that even doing the best that we can to help; some folks will simply reject true love and will continue to live in poverty.  But let that not stop us from giving all of mankind a chance to experience abundant life. Everyone deserves a chance to succeed.

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.

-Matthew 26:11

The idea of a quest to end poverty seems a bit insane.  This feat is beyond the wisest of men and animals and it seems impossible so why even try? 

I want to point out that it has been done at least twice.  In the first case after many years the people forgot what they did to end poverty and it returned.  That is why, once we succeed, we must build museums to remind us of the suffering that can take place when we refuse to bring justice and peace and hope to our fellow humans.  In the second case those living in poverty had no one living below them economically to serve. 

Ancient History

One from ancient history society that ended poverty started as a small impoverished village.  This village was so poor that if they had kept statistics like we do today over ninety percent of the population would have been living below the poverty line.  Things were looking bad.  In addition to abject poverty and uncertain opportunities for food, the people also had to be concerned about raiding parties from empires and nations around them.  Fear was very real for the citizens of the village.  The village had many things going for it.  Among the population were many highly intelligent and creative people.  After many generations of rough living the people were hardened and strong.  But the one thing that would ultimately help the people the most is that they were part of a kingdom that had a very wise king.  As the king considered the state of the village he knew that there was potential for so much more.  This king loved his people and they loved him too.  Unfortunately love does not fill the belly or warm the body.  Like I said, though, this king was very wise.

Calling his court to his side he launched his plan.  First he took each family of the village an olive tree.  He simply gave it to them with the understanding that someday they would pay him back.  Wise men came and taught the villagers how to plant the trees and care for them.  The climate was perfect and the trees prospered.  Throughout the process the people were visited by wise men that helped them continue the care of the trees and ensure that the people were always knowledgeable about olive trees.  Stories, myths and legends would be told that made the trees seem almost magical. The people were hopeful but they did not know why.  Soon the olives had their first budding and then in the blink of an eye it was time for harvest.  Again trainers descended on the village and the people were helped along.  When the harvest was complete others were responsible for taking the excess olives and taking them to other villages.  The people sold the olives and the village was not as poor as before.  Over time things like olive oil and other olive based products were created and the market grew.  Olive products from the village were traveling many miles and the village became prosperous.  After just a few short years the king was reimbursed for the original trees.  Experts continued to be available but for the most part the olive growers could do things on their own.  It became obvious to the villagers that they would need better roads and other things to help the trade to continue to prosper so they happily paid taxes that were put to good use to create these things.  When rumors of foreign armies were heard they joyfully paid taxes to build an army and navy.  The village grew and prospered many years.  Eventually the people were able to specialize into those who made tools, made olive oil, warriors and the arts came into being.  Now the village had wealth and there was no poverty among them.

NOTE: They had slaves that they had bought from foreign lands.  While I would say that these are poor they all had a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.  This is not to excuse them.  Life without freedom is not worth living.

This village I am sure you have heard of is Athens, Greece.  Too many years of wealth and prosperity took place and they were no longer the hardened people from the early days.  When the Persians came they could not stand.  With war came famine, infighting and disaster.  Instead of working together they lived divided by artificial factors like politics and family lineage.  Poverty returned with a vengeance.

There are a couple of things to point out here about this ancient story that are important to take note of and we will come back to later in this book.  If the King had simply gave the people food they never would have prospered.  He helped them get started and offered training and other helps along the way.  But each family only had success in accordance with their level of work.  Handouts will destroy civilizations.  Handouts are only appropriate after a disaster and only for a short season.  We must empower those who are experiencing poverty.  They have value and skills.  Let them use their ability for the forces of good.  Secondly, society had to work together.  When enemies threatened they had to work together, pay taxes and encourage others.   We must begin to see others as valuable to our own growth and prosperity and work together to face the difficulties that will come.

Our role in the church and in society as a whole when it comes to issues of poverty is to offer those in poverty a ladder.  It is up to them to climb it.

A second case of success took place in Paris, France in the early 1950s.  A young priest walking through the city after church one Sunday noticed some men that were experiencing homelessness going through trash.  Curious he began a conversation with the men.  They told him that they could take the bottles to one guy who would give them money to eat.  Another told him about another guy who would take bricks and other items for scrap. They would travel taking a few bottles to the bottle guy and other items to others who would buy those items.  At the end of the day, each man would have a little bit to eat that night. In that moment the priest had compassion on these men and he set out to organize these men.  He gave them assignments.  Some collected nothing but bottles and another nothing but bricks.  When the day was done all of the men came back together with big smiles and plenty of money for them all to eat well.  Again the priest organized the work party and they went out again.  Soon they made enough to rent a small place they could all live.  Eventually they were able to buy a building and they managed it themselves.  The priest continued to teach and train them on how to handle conflicts with each other.  He helped some learn to read and how to do math.  Most of all he taught these men to serve one another and also to serve others who were struggling.  The city was getting cleaner and the small group continued to prosper and their numbers swelled.  Some would leave the group to pursue education or other careers.  But service was embedded in their hearts. One day the priest noticed there were no more homeless in Paris and he became concerned.  He knew that if these men did not have someone to serve that they would become arrogant and proud.  They had to serve someone or poverty would return just as in the days gone by.  The priest went to third world countries to recruit folks to come to Paris, but it was too late.  Without someone to serve the men returned to bad choices and men were once again to be found living on the streets, feeding themselves by going through garbage. Returning to their selfish nature and experiencing the loneliness and pain of life alone, the great experiment came to a screeching halt.

The priest built these men a ladder and for a season they chose to climb it.

Service is an important key.  I don’t drink or gamble.  It is not my purpose here to debate the merits of that choice.  But I don’t drink or gamble because I want to be fully available to serve others.  If I am drunk I am not of much service to those in need.  If I lose my money to casinos I have less to share with my fellow man.  Service must be what shapes our character and inspires us daily.

I have often been surprised throughout my years of working with those in poverty how the men and women in poverty tear each other down, steal from one another and attack those who are making changes in their lives to get out of poverty.  They remind me of the story of crabs.  If a fisherman goes out and catches one crab and puts it in the bucket he must put a lid on the bucket.  However, if he catches two and puts them both in the bucket he does not need a lid.  The two crabs will prevent each other from getting out.

Don’t be a crab.

In both stories also notice the important role of inspirational, revolutionary and inspiring leadership.  Every community has someone with a voice that is filled with truth and grace.  Those voices must be supported and encouraged or the silence will drive people into poverty.

So it has been done. What do we do?  Where do we start?  That is what this book is intended to do.  That is, start something of a movement.  Find your piece of the action and get involved.  Each of us has God given passions.  We must find our role and move forward.  This book does not have all of the answers or all of the solutions.  It is meant to create conversations and to stoke the fires of passion for our neighbors.  This book will discuss patterns and ideas and they are debatable.  You can refute them, argue them but even in that there is conversation and if that happens I will consider this book a success.  Strive to add a verse to this book so that we can make progress. 

Note also that this blog is written from a Christian world view and many illustrations and patterns that will be discussed will reflect that view.  If you believe in Christ as your savior, this book will enhance your knowledge of Him.  If you are an unbeliever,  I ask you to not to throw out the whole concept because of your prejudice against people of faith.  This book has much to say about humanity and the process needs your help so stay with it and you too can add to the story.

Poverty is complicated and too many times policy makers and people of good intentions have begun a good work but have lost energy.  That is why it is only TOGETHER that we can do this.  We must forge an alliance with others who also want to do their part.  No one part is any more important than any other part.  The Bible teaches us that if we are united nothing will be impossible.  That is the reason why I think this is possible. 

The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

-Genesis 11:6

By together I mean that we must also include those in poverty in on the discussion.  After all they are the subject matter experts on what life in poverty is like.  My feeling is that they can identify the difficulties and the challenges.  For those in middle class and above I charge you to listen to their wisdom.  I have learned more from these men and women than I have from most of my college classes.  These are incredible survivors.  They make meals out of next to nothing. They can fix broken things without tools.  While they should be open to learning from you, you need to return the favor.  My experience is that when you listen to them, they will make more sense to you.

Wide or narrow attack?

It was toward the end of the World War II, the allies were approaching the German borders and a great debate began. Some felt that the allies should attack with a select front throwing every resource on a small area in the hope of piercing the front lines of the enemy?  Others believed that they should take on a wide front and engulf the enemy.  Ultimately, General Eisenhower chose to go with the wide front.  Many commentators believed that his decision extended the length of the war.  Most likely they are correct.  The Germans were in disarray and the Allies could have easily driven straight up to Berlin with little resistance.  Going with the wide front enabled the Germans to regroup and ultimately to make a final push through the Ardennes forest.  While some point a finger of blame at General Eisenhower for allowing that to take place and say he should have listened to General Montgomery and others who believed in the small front;  it is important to look at the big picture.  Ending the war too quickly would have enabled Germany to get out of the conflict with little impact on their homeland.  Another man, maybe worse than Adolf Hitler, could have arisen and gained power.  The quick fix would have been a band-aid.  Ultimately it is the wide front that ended the insanity.

Most of the projects and plans for ending poverty have been done on a small front and has enabled poverty to simply be rearranged on the plate and not defeated.  Wins are often made in the short run but nothing is ever sustained and the numbers of those in poverty actually grow.  This book will argue for the wide front.  We must attack poverty on all fronts with an aim to restore individuals, families and communities to health.  Together moving in many areas with one voice and one purpose we can win. Again there will be many areas discussed but as time goes on we will learn of more contributing factors.  We can’t keep waiting to find them all before publishing this book.  We will move forward with the best we know today but the conversation must be a living organism of its own.  Let us talk and share and see what we can do.  This generation can end poverty in America.  Let’s get started.