Have you ever wondered why, despite all of the programs and ministries out there that poverty is still so rampant in our culture? Recession and slow-to-nonexistent recovery aside, there are many obstacles to overcome before most of the poor can achieve a better lifestyle.
The diagram is my feeble attempt to show at least some of the points where those of us working with the poor must connect in order to play our part in helping to lift even one person out of poverty.
Each rung of the ladder represents a level of ministry. In truth, many of these levels may overlap. It’s not necessarily a sequential path, but generally, all of these things must happen to see desirable outcomes for each person we serve.
The bottom rung of ministry has to happen before anything else will work. How can you expect anyone to make progress if they don’t have enough clothes to wear, a roof over their heads or food to eat? In all honesty, I have seen dozens of people scratch and claw their way out of poverty without a home, but some protection from the elements is still essential.
Once we meet the basic needs of the people we serve, we must help them get into a place mentally, emotionally and spiritually where they can focus and push through the setbacks they will most certainly experience, whether due to their own failures or to circumstances beyond their control. This is the rung where those of us at Teens Opposing Poverty place most of our emphasis. We offer encouragement and Jesus. Without enough resolve and faith, it will be difficult for anyone to climb to the next rung.
When someone is ready to take on the challenges, they can begin taking advantage of the opportunities for work, housing, rehabilitation or education they will need to “beat the streets.” This stage is where we see most people fall off the ladder.
I never cease to be amazed at the hardships our friends experience when they try to move on to a better life. Here is where those of us in ministry with the poor need to continue to believe in the people we serve, help them believe in themselves and remind them that they have something bigger than themselves to live for. When they slip off this rung, they don’t have to fall off the ladder. Our job is to catch them at the next rung down and refuel their hearts, minds and souls so they can try again.
The top rung is where the poor can move to a better life. Mind you, we need to be careful to allow the person we are serving to determine what that better life is. Some people may be fine without indoor plumbing, but our job may be to help them get to where they can meet their other needs on their own. Our work in ministry with the poor often doesn’t end when they get to this rung of the ladder. Sometimes we have to push them to step out of their comfort zones or pull them along with us to take that next big step in life. Or our job at this point may simply be to follow them on their journey and never stop being a friend.
Holding the rungs of the ladder together are “Resources” and “Served to Servant.” All along the climb up the ladder, those of us in ministry will have to provide resources. It may be stuff for basic needs or it may be information to help someone continue the climb. The other support that holds the ladder upright is made up of opportunities to encourage those we serve to become fellow servants. When the poor cease to be objects of our charity and begin giving of themselves, big things begin to happen. The opportunities for this can come anywhere along the climb up the ladder.
In TOP’s ministry, it can start with a homeless man sharing the mistakes he made in his life with the youth who are serving him. In a rural setting it might mean someone who takes on the responsibility of managing a community garden.
I hope you see a place along this ladder where you can help bring someone to a better place in life.
God’s grace to you,
Steve Jennings, Executive Director