Do we have to fight poverty on our own, or have the poor already started the fight?
Below is a response from our Director of Development, Jordan Harper, to an inspiring article that can be found here, in Christianity Today.
I came across your article “These Churches Fought Domestic Poverty with the Gospel” in Christianity Today recently and was inspired to see so many churches jumping on board the fight to end poverty. Our organization, C24/7: Father’s Arms Ministries, serves the Rogers Park community of Chicago, using the same Work Life curriculum mentioned in the article and can attest to the power of Christ-based solidarity. I couldn’t help noticing, though, the uniquely middle-class lens this perspective of “fighting poverty” is seen through, despite its best intentions at establishing community participation as the bedrock of the approach. I would like to suggest a slight change in perspective here, from “fighting poverty” to “joining the fight on poverty.”
Our work in the community started because of one man’s journey through poverty and prison. James Crockett, our Executive Director, experienced the same struggles many of our neighbors face, until his life was renewed by embracing God’s parent-like love. Now James leads a community-wide effort to fight poverty in all its forms: spiritual, economic, academic, and mental. Along with his wife and cofounder Natalie, he is recruiting people like Montrell, who grew up in our rough neighborhood without either of his parents. Gun violence took many of his loved ones, and joining in this violence ultimately led him to prison. But he kept fighting.
Montrell completed his GED while in prison and stepped up to take control of his life once released. He enrolled in our job development program, took over as the main caretaker for his recently born son, faithfully started attending our local church, and will soon be hired to help train men and women fighting poverty like he did. This job will go a long way in breaking the cycle of poverty he inherited and give his son a chance to thrive.
The fight has already been started by the people poverty affects most. It is therefore important for churches to keep in mind the Chalmer’s Center’s stated goal of participation when joining the fight on poverty: “Getting community members to participate more fully in all that it means to be human” (When Helping Hurts, p. 137) because “[p]articipation is not just the means to an end but rather a legitimate end in its own right” (p.136).
When churches are interested in joining the fight on poverty, there is one thing above all else that communities need: faith. They must have faith in people who are crippled by poverty. Faith in the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And most importantly, faith in the God of solidarity and miracles. When churches establish faith in these regards, there is a foundation of beautiful relationship which raises community members up, instead of dropping aid in from above. It enables communities like ours to grow leaders like James and Montrell, who then turn around and raise more leaders, creating lasting systems to fight poverty.
Once faith is committed and shared, these beautiful relationships can hold up the needs of the community to the resources of the church. Time, money, operational expertise, and connections to various networks outside the confines of isolated communities strengthen those fighting and expand their reach.
But it all starts with a commitment to join the ongoing fight, and to bring faith along the way.