Reflecting on the Church and Poverty

I have introduced you to my friend Faly before. He and his family serve the Lord in their home country of Madagascar. Faly was recently in the States to finish his doctorate and, as a new partner with Children’s Hunger Fund, to spend some time at the office where I work. When he returned home, he wrote the following reflection which he has graciously allowed me to share here.

Faly writes: “I was confronted anew to the startling realities of life in the local church. Don’t get me wrong, it was so good to be back and deal again with the nitty-gritty of pastoral ministry. . . But it was heavy. We are historically more a middle to upper class church, not necessarily because we intended to, but people tend to gather with others like them, trying to find social affinities even in a church setting. Neighborhoods also play a role in a church roll, but in our case, we have both rich and poor in the same area. What would usually happen is that the rich would go to their church and support other churches down the street attended by the poor.  The situation in James 2 would not happen because rich and poor do not mingle that much.

We started a few months ago to evangelize in the poorer parts of the neighborhood around the church using the food packs from our partnership with Children’s Hunger Fund. A few families came to Christ and are now joining our church with around 10 adults currently attending our membership classes. And with this comes a real, tangible challenge for our church.

  • How do we truly live the “one-another” commands of the Bible beyond socio-economic differences?
  • How does the rich go beyond simply giving a check in the offering and demonstrate love to his poor brother?
  • How does the poor break out of his inferiority complex and converse with his wealthier counterparts?
  • How does a church become welcoming to both rich and poor?
  • How does conversations and contemplations go beyond the material to the spiritual?
  • How does a church not derail from its primary Gospel mandate and fall into a social justice gospel?

I wish I could give perfectly appropriate answers to all of these and tell you that our church has found the silver bullet solutions to all our challenges, but we haven’t. We are in the learning process. Here is what we have done so far and are planning to do:

We deal with the urgent: We have budgeted and prepared emergency food packs for families who are such in a dire situation that they have absolutely nothing to eat. Our mercy ministry deacons can be contacted by those who, due to special circumstances like sickness or job loss, cannot provide for themselves. 

We allocate for the ongoing: there is however a “situational” poverty–people in the church that are continuously poor because they do not have the education to get better paid jobs. Many used to get jobs hand-washing people’s clothes, or as house maids, gardeners, or any other menial tasks, but with every societal stratum impacted by the Covid crisis, fewer of these jobs available. So, we have decided to appoint a coordinator at our church level who will seek job opportunities for our poor church members, connecting them with other members within the church who might have things to get done around their house. We will develop a skills database and provide occasions for proficiency acquisition and development. Like in Acts 6, we think that our situation warrants appointing some godly servants to focus on it. But we also want the whole congregation to mingle, and we are thus considering starting equipping classes whereby we help those coming into the church come up to speed theologically so they can converse more comfortably on matters of the faith.

We plan for the long-term: As mentioned, lack of education is at the root of the problem. When money becomes scarce, the first thing parents do is to pull their children out of school, to avoid the expenses and to get an extra pair of hands to help putting food on the table. We are considering and praying about starting a primary and secondary school primarily for the members of our community. We have a few schoolteachers among our members so, why not cogitate how we could offer a good, biblically based education to those who can’t afford it?  

This is where the rubber meets the road, right? This is one area where we can see if the Gospel truly has transformed us as a church in the way we think and act. The Cross of Christ is the only thing that can bring such individual and collective revolution. But our faith must be lived out in God-glorifying deeds. Our love for God must be seen in our love for others.

Please pray with us as we try as a church to demonstrate the love of Christ within the household of faith in a God-honoring way.

Faly” 

Photo by Faly Ravoahangy

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