If the past two years have done anything for us, it has reminded us of the myriad of social justice issues that are prevalent in the world. How has that impacted you? Perhaps you have felt sad, angry, overwhelmed or zealous. All of those feelings are valid and they are a sincere response to injustice. Perhaps you have been stirred to learn more, grieve more, do more or love more. Learning, grieving, doing and loving are all essential to meet great need head-on and give expression to hope. Wherever this post meets you, whether that be amidst emotion, through curiosity or in active pursuit of hope, we are glad you are here.
In the past two years, we have certainly seen the great need in our world, we have had to adjust how we respond, we have faced the scope of addressing poverty and we have had to return to the reason we engage with the problem of poverty. The ongoing work of poverty alleviation is a demonstration and declaration of hope and there have been many exciting developments to this work that promise to help release more children from poverty in Jesus’ name.
In this article, we will discuss:
· The face of poverty in 2022
· The responses to poverty in 2022
· The scope of poverty in 2022
· Why engage in poverty alleviation
The face of poverty in 2022
The face of poverty is constantly changing, just like everything else in our world. Those who face poverty, why they face it and its expression in our world are all factors that remind us that poverty is a complex and multifaceted problem. The work of poverty alleviation is not as simple as one simple blanket solution. We cannot address any one single factor such as education or health and expect that will solve the problem of poverty in the world. This is because every individual who experiences poverty represents a unique set of factors such as community, family, education or location, to name a few. What we do know with certainty is that, amid any number of factors, children are always the most vulnerable.
The responses to poverty in 2022
The prominent themes of poverty alleviation in 2022, which rise from the increasingly complex reality of poverty in our world today, are agility and innovation. COVID-19, environmental degradation, changes to education, employment and healthcare have all necessitated that those engaged in the work of poverty alleviation, like Compassion, both clarify the non-negotiables of this work and employ flexibility.
Here are the non-negotiable needs our programs address:
· Child protection
· Food security
· Hygiene and sanitation needs
· Empowering local church partners
When the non-negotiables are established, then agility is employed so that these priorities can be delivered no matter the circumstances. Creativity and innovation become essential.
A good example of the intersection between the changing face of poverty and the response to poverty is the reality of cell phones. Many families who live in poverty now own cell phones. This development in the landscape of poverty was actually an instrumental tool during COVID-19 as it gave Compassion staff the ability to communicate, deliver necessary resources and provide adapted child development programming to children when social distancing and stay-at-home mandates were prevalent. Compassion staff all over the world exercised agility in delivering essential resources and programming which has precipitated a surge of innovative thinking.
This innovative thinking has caused those working in poverty alleviation to explore what new capabilities might be available. How can we get ahead of growing concerns that will have an impact on children in poverty? Fresh thinking and new strategies are essential in areas such as disaster resilience, environmental resilience, technology and program design. Being informed by data and applying innovation to these areas means that the work of poverty alleviation is breaking new ground and ensuring that crises and risks are mitigated well for the sake of those we serve.
While agility and innovation are prominent themes in poverty alleviation, Compassion’s ministry has also been engaged in expansion. There are kids in need, and we have a ministry to reach them. This is the heart of Compassion’s mission and so, even as we look to innovate and be agile, we are also looking to expand to new countries and communities so that more children can be released from poverty in Jesus’ name.
The scope of poverty in 2022
Effective poverty alleviation requires working in the full scope of poverty. What does this mean? It means both addressing poverty in the lives of individual children and at a structural level in society. We cannot overemphasize the significance of individual, one-to-one ministry when it comes to poverty alleviation. Because poverty is multifaceted and complex, every child needs individual care and support in order to thrive. But, even with this priority, we cannot neglect the fact that we must also address the structures and systems that contribute to the problem of poverty.
Gustavo Gutiérrez potently states, “So you say you love the poor? Name them.” Compassion’s model of poverty alleviation is holistic child development. This means that every part of a child’s life is impacted, not just their physical or material concerns. Why is holistic child development how we engage with the problem of poverty? For the same principle that Gutiérrez implies. Every child is deserving of dignity, love, purpose and hope. In order to ensure that every child living in poverty receives these essential components to a future free from poverty, we must ensure every child is known, loved and protected. This is why Compassion works through the local church. A local church knows each child they serve, they love each child and provide a secure, longstanding relationship with that child through their presence in their community and they can work to provide better child protection measures within that child’s context. The local church knows each child’s name, but not only that, they know the unique factors of that child’s situation and can provide what they need to overcome poverty.
However, as mentioned, it is also important to engage in the structures and systems that perpetuate, or in some cases, cause the problem of poverty for children. Every single child lives in the context of a community. It is impossible to minister to that individual child without addressing the community they live in. The exciting thing is we already do this! How? You may have guessed it — the local church! The local church not only allows us to address poverty at a micro level (knowing, loving and protecting each individual child), it also contributes to poverty alleviation at a macro level.
Whenever Compassion’s ministry engages in complementary interventions (such as water or sanitation projects, education initiatives, healthcare, environmental care or other forms of engagement), the whole community is impacted. Every community we work in gets trained in child protection by the church — even as far as training the local schools that the children attend. These initiatives are often in line with what the local and national government goals are for their communities and countries. This gives us a voice in structures and systems that can help release more children from poverty, simply through the visible presence and measurable impact that occurs through the local church. It is a strategic and relevant way to elevate the conversation about child poverty in every country we work in.
Why engage in poverty alleviation?
Releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name matters. We aren’t just saying that because it is our mission at Compassion, we are saying it because it is essential to the Christian mission. It is essential to the Christian mission in two ways: discipleship and reconciliation.
We know that our mandate as believers is to “…go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Discipleship is our prerogative. It is what sets us apart from the world around us. We don’t simply solve problems, we build people. We don’t just seek to elevate the conversation about child poverty through the work of poverty alleviation. We also elevate the theological conversation about discipleship for kids. What does holistic child development look like? How can we invest in the future of each child? How are we helping to make them whole in a world that is broken? This — this — is the reason we engage in poverty alleviation today and why we will continue to engage in this important work tomorrow.
Through discipleship — the intentional and holistic development of every child into a thriving, whole and Christlike individual — we arrive at reconciliation. Reconciliation is an outcome of poverty alleviation that is delivered through discipleship. Poverty is a result of relationships that are broken, unjust and unrighteous. Bringing wholeness and peace to those relationships results in reconciliation. This reconciliation is not a program or strategy, it is the product of love. It celebrates diversity and leads to just communities that seek the welfare of its citizens. We cannot find reconciliation without viewing every child in poverty through the eyes of Christ, inviting them to become a new creation through Him and discipling them to be His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:16–20). The work of poverty alleviation is an expression of the ministry of reconciliation in our world. Restoring our relationship with God, with others and with the world around us.
Releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name matters.