Although born near Chicago, a portion of my early childhood was spent with my mother’s family in a small village in The Philippines. By western standards, most of our village was extremely poor. Truth was, each family didn’t own very much and alone some would not have survived. Because we did life together, though, we thrived. I was never hungry nor did I feel unprotected (even with some wild animals for neighbors). Our community was living in abundance without much stuff.
“The opposite of poverty is not wealth. In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice.” —Bryan Stevenson
We opened our In Justice Speaker Series with a night focused on poverty, very purposefully, as it is the common thread woven into the ugly fabric of all injustices. Poverty at its most basic is about needs being unmet for so long or in such an acute way that suffering is the result. The barriers to meeting needs, whether they are situational or systemic, translate into the other topics that we continued to tackle during the month-long series: human trafficking, refugees, and racial reconciliation.
Poverty, and by extension injustice, is so overwhelming in its devastating effect that many feel paralyzed just thinking about it. To master our fear, we do our best to define that which we don’t understand so that we can take action. How we see and define a problem determines the solutions we create. Poverty is most commonly seen as a lack of stuff—a resource problem. People are hungry, living in squalor, or struggling because they don’t have enough stuff. So we respond by donating and distributing stuff to fill the lack we believe has created the suffering.
The reality though, is that poverty is more than that. Broken relationships (with God, self, others, and creation) are at the root of the suffering, like a cancer. We see symptoms like material need, respond with things, and for a time the pain recedes. But the deeper illness only grows.
During the teaching and panel discussion on poverty, we heard over and over again how those living in material poverty, locally and globally, describe their suffering in relational and emotional terms. The lack of material needs matters, but that isn’t the whole of the issue. They describe shame, isolation, and insurmountable hopelessness. Broken relationships.
Our panel gave some shocking insight into how poverty translates into suffering locally:
-Issues of race have contributed to geographic and generational poverty in our city.
-Experts locally estimate the number of children living in extreme poverty (less than $2 a day) at nearly 20,000. Enough to fill Camping World Stadium.
-Neighborhoods of concentrated poverty are wary of outsiders coming to serve them because history has shown that those coming to serve are also quick to leave.
-Access to a wide network of social contacts is a privilege that changes the trajectory of someone’s life.
So if these are the realities, what do we do? How do we fix everything that is so horribly broken?
Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times; a brother is born for adversity.”
The entire month of teaching we heard a resounding theme that taking a bold step toward meaningful relationships with people that are different than us is the first step toward healing injustice. Forging relationship is hard enough in familiar settings, reaching outside of what we know makes it even more difficult. But healthy relationships aren’t about perfection, they are about mutual respect, compassion, and truth. Messiness is part of their beauty.
The hope for our community is that by not only opening our eyes to injustice, but our hearts to those who suffer, we can feel God’s call to mission more deeply. In the next few weeks and months there will be many opportunities to take steps toward alleviating poverty and pushing back at injustice. Some of those opportunities will be with Summit. From prayer, to meeting practical needs and service, to relational investment, God is calling us to move toward one another. He is inviting us into “shalom,” a peace so complete and perfect that all can find refuge there.
In the face of poverty and injustice, don’t despair. We know the end of the story and God wins. Shalom will be our forever.
There are a handful of great local and upcoming opportunities to join God as he sets things right in our world!
Join us for the IJM Orlando Prayer Gathering. Be a part of our church-wide Backpack Drive and help us collect 500 backpacks for local students. And learn about our partner organization, The Jobs Partnership, which seeks to transform the lives of those who are chronically underemployed.
Liz Cronlund is the Community Development Coordinator for Summit Church. If you would like more information about ways you can be a part of serving our city, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.