By: Steve Holt Sr.
The food was late arriving at my place setting. And when it finally arrived, it was a salad!
But all that is to be expected when you attend a fundraiser for a nonprofit, especially one aimed at helping the poor. The five hundred or so of us weren’t there to eat. The occasion was a fundraiser for a local organization that serves the poor in my home town. The campaign is entitled “Beyond Charity, a Vision for the Future.”
The real food at this luncheon were the insights and information shared by eight speakers from a variety of organizations whose missions intersect with some of this city’s poorest citizens. Each panelist had his own idea of what the major issues are regarding poverty and how the people of our fair city might come together to address those issues. A few examples: the police chief called for a detox facility, the mental health advocate stressed the importance of programs for those suffering more serious mental issues, a doctor who sees a large number of poor women in his practice said sex and contraceptive education would make a big difference, a successful entrepreneur pointed out the importance of hiring people with limited skills and checkered pasts, the city councilman talked about synergy and the importance of working together to address the issues of homelessness and poverty, the representative from the local school district noted that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. There was no doubt that the panel participants care. The fact that the mayor served as moderator gives you an idea of where this city’s administration is regarding the welfare of all our citizens. I was impressed and challenged.
The problems of poverty are real, they are deep, and they affect us all as reflected in crime statistics, increase of single parent families, withering neighborhoods, run-away drug abuse, rising costs of goods because of theft, and more. The most unfortunate result of poverty might be what it does to the human spirit. Poverty destroys hope, happiness, and will.
But the idea that holds the greatest possibility for permanent reversal of poverty—people of means actually moving to impoverished neighborhoods to live among and love the folks who live there—was barely mentioned. People touching people instead of people throwing money at the issues from safe, well-to-do neighborhoods makes a difference in both long-time and relocated neighbors.
Where this has been practiced, real and lasting changes have begun. And the changes work both ways—both rich and poor sharing from their respective wealth of experiences, knowledge and gifts, and in the process, simply loving each other, bring blessings beyond measure to all.
Why is this simple concept so often missing in the discussions about what to do about poverty?
The luncheon’s opening invocation, Bible references from several panelists and occasional hearty “amens” from the assembled made the luncheon a decidedly faith-centered event. Several churches hosted tables for their faithful and friends. Perhaps, then, you will excuse this paraphrase (with liberties) of Philippians 2:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being able to afford any neighborhood he wished, did not consider himself worthy to live any place he wished. Instead, he gave himself up and chose to dwell among people who were so unlike himself. And moving to that needy neighborhood, he took on the identity of the poor, isolated, forgotten, abused, maligned people who lived there, thus submitting to his Father’s wishes. As a result, his Father rewarded him handsomely with new friends, new perspectives, and contentment beyond measure.
The point is that God dealt with the dire human condition (far more serious than poverty), not by isolating himself behind the vast expanses of space, but by leaving the safety and comforts of heaven and choosing to dwell among a vastly different neighborhood…a neighborhood so hostile that it eventually cost Jesus his very life.
Perhaps it’s time for we who call ourselves disciples of Jesus to take a page from God’s playbook by moving into neighborhoods that need us, to live with people we desperately need.
And perhaps that’s what neo-restoration is really all about.
(Disclaimer: I confess that I currently live in a comfortable, safe neighborhood—if, indeed, anyplace is safe—surrounded by giving neighbors who keep their yards up. But, I’m seriously rethinking all of that. I’ll keep you posted.)
Steve Holt lives in Texas. His recent book, “Intentional: In Jesus’ name we play,” tells the story of a fictional wealthy professional basketball superstar who moves to one of the poorest neighborhoods in America to connect with the people who live there and the hope and renewal he brought. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.