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God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power, and the Kingdom of God
A book by Jayakumar Christian
I cannot count the impoverished people our students have served worldwide. This book by Jayakumar Christian challenged my understanding and gave me several keys to ministry among the Poor. I’m convinced these key principles are important for most church ministries. That is why I recommend this book to you
Key #1: Who Are the Poor?
Jesus said: “The poor will always be with you.” Who was Jesus talking about? Here are three types of poverty as described by Jayakumar Christian:
The Poor have Poverty of Being, a Lost Identity.
The Poor have a Poverty of Purpose, a Forgotten Vocation.
The Poor have a Poverty of Relationships; all their Relationships Work against their Well-being.
When a person or a community experiences all three types of poverty simultaneously, they are caught in a spiritual trap.
Jayakumar Christian says that the Poor are caught in a web of relationships. Robert Chambers writes, “Poverty is entanglement.” That is to say, the Poor are caught in a web of systems; they lack power, materials, choices, relationships, and influence.
What can be done for the Poor?
“The first order of moral obligation is to think clearly.” - Blaise Pascal
Donald McGavran contends that the Poor are exempt from experiencing transformation until they have all been saved. McGavran writes, “The only place large social action is possible is in countries where the majority of the population are members of Christ’s Church” (p. 78). Should this be our approach to helping the Poor?
Perhaps we need to dig deeper. Is poverty caused by sin? Is poverty caused by the sin of others? Are the Poor responsible for their poverty? Is poverty a punishment? At what point are the Poor set free from the cycle of poverty?
If Poor people live on bare subsistence (no savings, no investments, no opportunity for technological improvements, and no income increase), what are the most important steps necessary to help them?
Jayakumar Christian explains that two things are necessary to help the Poor: First, they are set free when they understand their identity, which is found in a revelation of God’s image imprinted on all of humanity. Second, they are released from the web of poverty when they discover their calling in God.
Key #2: Kingdom View of the Poor.
Whether intentional or not, ministries to the Poor reflect the Christian church’s view of the poor and the nature of poverty. Jayakumar Christian writes, “Too often, our outreach unintentionally communicates, ‘We are complete, and you are not.’” How can those serving the Poor avoid this trap?
The first goal of outreach to the Poor must be to model God’s identity imprinted on every human being. By doing so, we can help the Poor to recover God’s creative design and purpose for them. The second goal of outreach to the Poor must emphasize the discovery of vocation, for the Christian participant and the community in which they minister. By doing so, we will fulfill the commission to preach the good news to the poor. We will set free the Poor to enjoy the fruit of the gospel, which produces just and peaceful relationships.
The way we can reach these goals is by demonstrating a servant heart, the nature of our servant King Jesus. In our outreach to the Poor, we must present to the community a demonstration of the biblical story through our relationships.
Our outreach must portray the character of God, the One who calls us to be like Him. God is a healer, communicator, builder, author, creator, artist, counselor, teacher, and Father of every family. Our outreach should represent a community of servants, connecting and leading through the spheres of influence, the arts, business, communication, education, family, government, and the church.
Key #3: Power from the Throne of God.
The Poor are powerless in many respects. The Poor remain in poverty because they are denied access or they are held powerless because of broken relationships. Principalities and Powers, rulers of the darkness of this world, block their access, and keep them in the cycle of poverty. Relationship is the key dynamic of the kingdom of God. The Poor need access to the throne of God, but they remain impoverished so long as they are unaware of the access Jesus has made to His Throne.
The Poor are no different from anyone; they must be connected to others. Sin severs and separates all kinds of relationships and all kinds of suffering is the result of sin. The Poor need to be connected in right relationship with God and his world. The Poor need to be connected with the community, where they have been restricted from access. Connection, however, should not be primarily to gain access to material provision, such as food, shelter, and medicines. Why? Because, too often, provision has become a means of control.
A kingdom-based response to poverty will reverse the “process of dis-empowerment,” “confront god-complexes” (of the Poor and the non-poor), heal bodies and relationships, teach and model a more adequate worldview, challenge the principalities and powers of darkness (including institutions that are instruments of those powers), establish “truth and righteousness,” and proclaim that “all power belongs to God.” Poverty, ultimately, is the poverty of “being” and of “purpose.” Conversely, abundant life is God’s provision of “being” and “purpose.” It is from the vantage point of the throne of God that an individual and a community finds their God-given identity and vocation. God confers to anyone who believes an abundant life, which includes the essential provision of being and purpose.
Key #4: Defend the Image of God in the Poor.
The Church is called to define and defend the image of God in the Poor. The Poor are not lazy or stupid. Jayakumar Christian writes, “A people so close to the edge cannot afford laziness or stupidity. They have to work and work hard. Most of the lazy and stupid are dead.”
Our outreach should intentionally celebrate and enhance life without limiting access to love, justice, or peace. We should minister among the Poor addressing the cultural, social, spiritual, personal, and biological spheres of the community. Through our outreach, we can intentionally counteract the whole system of poverty by restoring relationships, including relationships with God (religion, philosophy, theology), the Community (political science and economics), the Environment (biology, ecology, engineering), Others (sociology, international relations, justice), and Individuals (psychology, health care).