My wife and I both love to minister to the poor. That is one of the reasons we moved to Kenya as missionaries. But the goal is to alleviate poverty. The goal is not to "do our good deed for the day," or to "just simply help poor people because that's what God said to do," but rather it is because we love them. Out of love, I don't want to just help out the poor. I want to see them completely rise out of poverty, which I also believe is God's will for the materially poor.
Quickly, I want to talk about the method in which we minister to the poor. If your like me (and probably most Christians) we tend to focus on what they don't have. They either don't have enough food, or water, or clothing, or housing... etc. We usually go into an area to do a survey to see what is needed. We go up to people and ask: What is the problem? What is wrong with you? What do you need?...etc. None of these questions are bad. However, as white people in a Third World Country, it is able to send a dangerous, harmful message with these types of questions. A lot of times we unintentionally send these messages when we're ministering to the materially poor: "I am here to fix you." "I am here to save you." "I am the minister, and you are the one getting ministered to." "You need me, cause without me you will always be poor."... I exaggerated some of these statements in order to make a point. Sometimes in our well intentioned efforts to minister to the materially poor we create an inferiority complex in the people were ministering to. Also, it's easy for us as missionaries to develop a "God-complex." It can create an atmosphere where we are better than the people we are ministering to. This can lead to them relying on us to solve all their problems. Rather, we want people to know that God created them with the gifts and abilities to take care of themselves and help other the same as us. We are all created equal. Missionaries are not any better than the people they are ministering to.
Instead of doing it this way, what if we tried something different? What if I went up to the poor and asked different questions. What resources do you already have? What job skills do you already have? What has God already blessed you with? (Even if it may be very little.) This is a very different message were sending. We are honoring the poor. We are teaching them to realize what God has already done for them. We are showing them that they have the gifts and abilities to survive and even thrive in this life. But you see, this is much harder than just handing out food. It means we have to invest in the people we're ministering to. We have to spend time helping them to develop rather than just giving "handouts." It means we have to be patient, and know this might not be a "quick fix." We can show people how to use their skills and resources to make a life for themselves instead of having to rely on western support.
We all know the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fishes. Do you notice what Jesus does there? He does not just automatically create this enormous amount of food. What Jesus does is prays to God and thanks him for what he has already given to these people. Even though it is very little. They only had 5 loaves and 2 fishes. It wasn't much. Why did Jesus not just create the food out of nothing. He was honoring what the people right there already had. We need to learn from this. Lets thank and praise God for what he has already given to the people we are ministering to. It is miraculous what God can do when we come to him with what little we have. He can multiply our food. When we bring him our sickness, he can heal it. When we bring him our burdens, he can lift them. It shows praise and honor to God when we come to him with what we have. When we just give "western handouts" I think it shows that we're not honoring what God is already doing for these people. (Don't get me wrong, sometimes relief is the appropriate response.) Little children, the elderly, and emergency disasters often require that we provide immediate relief. But I think a lot of times we provide relief to people when we should be providing development for them.
If we do this, then these people will have the tools to survive without us. If you just raise a lot of money from American Churches and give it to people that is fine. It will get the job done. People will not go hungry. But what happens when you leave? What happens if hard times fall on the Churches that are supporting your program? Then what will happen to the people you're ministering to? They will be back in the same position they were before they met you. We don't want that.
Why didn't Jesus just preach for his entire ministry to as many people as he could? I mean we read in the Bible how well known he was. He could have traveled anywhere and done some miracles and flocks of people would have came. But rather he decided to spend his time with the 12. This way these men would have the skill and abilities to go and minister to all the world.
I just want to encourage people to go into the mission field with humble hearts. I want people to go into the field and to address the spiritual, social, emotional, and psychological reasons that these people are living in poverty. Lets not work to these people. People are not a program. Lets work with and alongside the people so they can rise out of poverty. These places are called developing countries for a reason. They need to be developed by the people of God who have the power to rebuild cities and empower the people in them to live a life of Godliness. Lets show these people the value they have in God and the power they have to rise out of poverty. God is already working in Third World Countries. Lets join him!