Monday, May 10, 2010

When Helping Hurts Part 4: Success?

Last week, I sought to establish two main points from the book "When Helping Hurts", that poverty is more than material and that poverty results from broken relationships with God, ourselves, others, and creation.

So if we accept these premises, what does progress look like? How does someone tackle problems that have existed for thousands of years? What does it look like to go beyond material solutions?

These are hard questions. I frequently tell people that one of the hardest things about my job is that I have little conception of what "success" is. There is no easily measurable standard to go by, if one accepts these premises.

But as a starting point, let's remember "the grand narrative" I presented that ends with restoration and redemption. The ultimate solution and destination is entirely outside of human control and efforts. In the end, "Jesus is bringing reconciliation to every last speck of the universe, including our foundational relationships and the systems that emanate from them." (see Colossians 1:15-20)

So the end goal and the power is found in Christ and this future restoration, but is this relevant in the meantime?

Absolutely. Christianity isn't about treasures and Heaven, it is and always has been about a King and a Kingdom. And that King is Christ. And his followers are called, chosen, and expected to live lives here on this broken planet as a preview of that Kingdom. His Kingdom is both already and not yet here. (let's throw a plug for Rick McKinley's This Beautiful Mess for a wonderful tackling of this topic)

So, success in poverty alleviation must look something like that Kingdom. The authors define it: "Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation." More specifically, the goal of material poverty alleviation is reconcile these relationships so that people can "fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work."

Notice what the goal is not. The goal is not to turn the materially poor into middle-to-upper class North Americans, "a group characterized by high rates of divorce, sexual addiction, substance abuse, and mental illness." The goal is right, reconciled relationships. Right, reconciled relationships that allow for persons to escape the cycles and effects of material poverty.

The goal is to see people empowered, to see their own gifts and abilities and use those to impact positive change. It must be done through a process and a relationship (with that attitude "I am not OK, and you are not OK, but Jesus can fix us both"). Its must be a process that is centered on the end goal of bringing God glory.

People over projects.

Processes over products.

Glory over all else.