Poverty is a tricky thing to define; especially for those of us living in a Western context.
Ask a dictionary and it’ll probably tell you something about its correlation to a lack of material possessions, money, and other resources. Ask most Americans and chances are they’d focus on a simple lack of water, food, housing, or other things traditionally associated with the realities of daily living in the Global South.
This isn’t to say that Western nations, or even Americans in general, are completely ignorant to the existence of poverty; the realities of domestic poverty in urban and rural America have shown us quite the opposite.
What’s troublesome, though, is that many of us struggle to imagine that poverty is anything more than a physical reality. So often, we focus on relief efforts that throw old clothes, shoes, water wells, and free food at an issue that, quite frankly, deserves some more thoughtful consideration.
Before providing answers, let’s ask ourselves a question: What does experiencing poverty actually feel like?
Back in the 1990s, the World Bank conducted surveys of men and women in 47 countries around the world who were currently living in poverty. These studies were eventually compiled into a series of books called Voices of the Poor; the resulting findings shed light on the powerful grip poverty has on so many worldwide.
A woman in Moldova said, “Poverty is pain; it feels like a disease.” In her own words, “It attacks a person not only materially but also morally. It eats away one’s dignity and drives one into total despair.”
In Latvia, another shared: “Poverty is humiliation, the sense of being dependent.”
In Pakistan, one individual summarized the experience like this: “We poor people are invisible to others—just as blind people cannot see, they cannot see us.”
These words aren’t just shocking, they’re sobering; a reminder that there’s so much we don’t know—so much we can’t possibly begin to understand.
What you might notice is that none of these individuals talked about food, water, or shelter. They didn’t complain about the pangs of hunger, thirst, or cold nights—though these are all likely facets of daily living for them and millions of others.
Poverty, it seems, brings about an experience of emotional pain, humiliation, a loss of dignity and, most profoundly, a loss of hope. It affects not only how others see those living in poverty but how the impoverished see themselves. Everything from their perceived value to their worth to their identity is deeply wounded, marred by the misperception and judgments of others.
As it seems, poverty is so much more than materially based; it’s emotional, psychological, relational, and even spiritual. Given this, followers of Christ are called to support poverty alleviation measures that holistically address not just some, but all of the issues at play in the lives of afflicted individuals.
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Source: Christianity Today