Let’s Talk About Poverty, Part I: Breaking Our Expectations

Poverty. Poor. Living under the Poverty Line.  These terms and phrases we hear on a daily basis to describe a person in need–but what do they necessitate exactly? Food? Shelter? Different clothing? Perhaps, but when we lean in to take a closer look we find that lacking physical objects is hardly the only reason why these folks would describe their lives as scarce.

In the book Helping Without Hurting, Steve Corbett explains this concept further by saying that in “being materialistic people, many North Americans tend to think of the disease of poverty as being a lack of material things, such as money, food, clothing, and shelter.”  He explains that because this is our way of thinking, we believe as a culture that the way to relieve this epidemic is to give money or other material objects to our low-income neighbors.  However, as a society, we’re beginning to arrive at the understanding that there are numerous other non-material facets that can significantly help to redeem our neighbors’ poverty.

The truth is that an individual can be experiencing poverty in ways that lie completely outside of the “material” spectrum.  This can be surprising for us as members of our communities that have sought to come alongside impoverished people with tangible offerings in our outstretched arms.

Though the need for water and hygiene items are certainly necessary, there are more soul-quenching demands to be addressed. As we gain perspective on the circumstances these folks are facing, we begin to grasp that their needs go beyond that of what we see them lacking, into more abstract essentials such as gaining a positive mindset, life purpose, and a supportive community.

Taking a look at these intangible life sources begs us as a society to ask the question: could there truly be a plethora of needs for this community of people that we simply haven’t been seeing? Needs that affect humans in a more profound and lasting way than filling their immediate need for gasoline or sustenance?

If what Corbett has written about is true, we must begin to pivot our embedded reaction to fill the need we expect and expand our horizons to view the person as a person with potential.  A person that perhaps has some insecurities or underdeveloped resources that simply require the chance to be tapped into, stewarded, and supported.

As we seek to gain understanding about the population of folks living defined by unfortunate circumstances, we realize we have the opportunity to view each individual as being clothed insignificant possibility; the possibility that can be fostered and given the chance to grow with human contact.  By engaging in conversation, learning their stories, sharing a meal, etc., the concepts of significance and humanity, and equality will begin to reside within our neighbors and take shape as they are free to take steps towards regaining their identity outside of poverty. As Corbett explains, each individual living with poverty is still an image-bearer of God, equipped with talents, skills, and gifts that simply need the space and invitation to be recognized and nurtured.

It is in appreciating this truth and flipping our perception of poverty on its head, that the layer of brokenness will be lifted, and the true identity of the person underneath will surely be revealed and allowed to grow.  And for the almost 400,000 people in Orange County living below the federal poverty line, it is paramount that this understanding be obtained in order for the lives being reflected in these statistics to be given hope again.

To learn more about partnering with Eastside as we seek to walk alongside those in our community facing poverty, visit eastside.com/local.

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