Knowing the symptoms of poverty is one thing. Getting at its root cause is something else entirely. That was the focus of a small-group discussion at the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) meeting held in Louisville, Ky., Sept. 25-27.
Led by Greg Allen-Pickett, Andrew Kang Bartlett, Ruth Farrell and Valery Nodem, the discussion centered on addressing poverty issues at home and abroad.
Allen-Pickett noted that a critical global initiative given to Presbyterian World Mission (PWM) focused on three key components of reaching the needs of the impoverished. One was poverty itself along with evangelism and reconciliation.
“Those initiatives address the root causes of poverty, especially as it impacts women and children,” he said. “We are called to engage in poverty alleviation in multiple ways.”
Among those ways are a “hands-on” approach, empowerment of partners and advocacy – modes of mission.
The modes of mission
Allen-Pickett described a continuum of faithful Christian response to poverty with each of those modes of mission broken down into areas of compassion, justice and transformation. He described the “hands-on” approach as compassion or acts of mercy like providing food banks and building projects. Empowerment of partners, or justice, refers to sustainable development of long-term projects done in partnerships. Advocacy, or transformation, is corporate or legislative activity to address the issues.
“Jesus calls us to feed the hungry,” he said. “We start there, but we don’t want to end there. We need to do more.”
In speaking of empowering partners, Allen-Pickett noted a need to open up educational opportunities, working with global partners to heed the call. He cited the work churches in Malawi are doing to create schools.
“Presbyterians know how to do education. It’s one of our main modes of mission and something we have been doing for a long time,” Allen-Pickett said, noting that a campaign touting quality education for 100,001 children launched this summer. “We have to provide quality education to open up opportunities (thus reducing the likelihood of poverty).”
Nodem, associate for international hunger concerns with the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP), spoke of situations in his native Cameroon and how he learned to be an advocate for initiatives geared toward helping those in need. He noted that one of the major turning points for him was simply leaving his own reality to experience others. Doing so allowed him to take up causes he felt strongly about aiding.
Bartlett, associate of national hunger concerns for PHP, talked about programs made available to allow people access to fresh produce, particularly in Louisville. He explained that many people show up for the FreshStop program to get food, but they also are educated about and encouraged to try their hand at gardening to provide for themselves and others.
“Sharing food with them is a short-term fix,” he explained. “Starting relationships and sustaining them are key.”
He talked about the FreshStop program in the Shawnee neighborhood of Louisville and how it has taught people to grow their food, allowing them to become providers for the initiative, which, in turn, adds to the local economy.
“There has to be a will to make something happen, a place to have it and the know-how,” Bartlett said. “That’s what we have offered here to address poverty. It shows faith in action.”
Dealing with the causes
Allen-Pickett said it’s not just a matter of addressing the symptoms of poverty but dealing with the causes.
“You can’t just keep giving them food. We have to determine why they are coming back for food, and that’s what we are trying to do with this approach,” he said.
Allen-Pickett added that there are numerous congregations with people seeking to become involved in some worthwhile endeavors, and helping address issues such as poverty is a way to do that.
“We have people in our congregations, especially retirees, who want to be involved and many with time to become advocates,” he said. “We need to empower our congregations with the tools they need and then inspire them to do the work. They can be agents of change, all through their faith.”