“And through him God reconciled everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.”
– Colossians 1:20 (NIV)
“Why is there a dead chicken hanging in that tree?” I inquired while bumping down a dirt road in the Dominican Republic to visit Food for the Hungry (FH) projects.
“The local witchdoctor is calling a meeting,” someone said after a few moments of silence.
“What are those decorations on top of the crosses in people’s yards?” I asked as my head hit the car ceiling several potholes further down the road.
“The cross is about Jesus. The adornment at the top is about traditional beliefs. People have combined the beliefs of both into a different kind of religion.”
Hundreds of questions later – swearving and bouncing toward our destination – I had embarked on a quest to understand the relationship between worldview and poverty.
Poverty Results From Broken Relationships
The Bible describes three kinds of foundational relationships:
- God and humans (vertical) – an understanding that you are made in God’s image and, therefore, have value;
- Humans and other humans (horizontal) – realizing that, because every human is made in God’s image, we all have equal value – no matter how lowly our status in life;
- Humans and God’s creation – knowing that God made all things in the natural world and gave humans the job of protecting and developing it.
Brokenness in any of these relationships results in physical, spiritual, social and emotional poverty.
For example, many factors result in a malnourished child. Perhaps the environment has been so degraded that the child’s community no longer can grow enough food (brokenness between humans and creation). Maybe the child’s parents prefer to invest in indulgences rather than caring for the child (brokenness between humans). And when parents and community members don’t recognize the value God places on that child (brokenness between God and humans), they fail to create a healthy, nutritious place for the child to grow up.
Overcoming Poverty Requires Reconciled Relationships
Colossians 1:20 says that Jesus came to reconcile all broken relationships in heaven and on earth. If broken relationships cause poverty, and Jesus came to mend those relationships, then a biblical worldview is key to sustainable poverty-reducing programs.
That often must occur in cultures that embrace harmful practices based on centuries-long beliefs and traditions. It also occurs in communities of other religions such as Islam, Hinduism and others. We must respect cultures and religions while teaching biblical concepts in an inclusive way.
For example, FH works through something we call Care Groups. Each group has 10-15 members and is led by a community volunteer. We teach the relationship concepts while also providing practical applications of how to care for children and families. If other religions are involved, then we’ll ask about the teachings in this regard from those religions.
We certainly can and are more direct as appropriate, but the long-term sustainability of what is learned requires the kind of patience and discernment that comes from God.
The Entire Community Must Take Part
As we teach biblical concepts in our programs, we also show Christ’s love in the way we act and speak. We try to work in ways that includes everyone in the community. We’ve identified three primary groups with which to work:
- Churches – helping them expand their mission beyond their doors and pure spiritual ministry to reach out to the community and consider social, emotional and physical conditions as well;
- Leaders – helping them identify and solve community problems in a way that includes all classes of people and cares for the both humans and creation;
- Families – giving them the tools that enable them to care for each other as well as their neighbors and creation.
Sustainable Development is the End Result
FH enters a community with a plan to leave in 10 to 15 years. Everything we do involves as much of the community as possible, whether in the areas of education, health & nutrition, livelihoods or disaster risk reduction. We teach volunteers to teach other volunteers so that our work expands beyond our staff capacity. Biblical worldview is both the foundation and umbrella, and that is carried out in a culturally-sensitive way. We not only teach it, we display it. We allow community members to lead as much as possible.
When a community is ready, we turn all the work over to them.
See a video on the role of biblical worldview in overcoming poverty.