Poverty Explored

How we define a problem impacts how we try to address it. Our mission at JustUs revolves around addressing the problem of poverty. Today, I’d like to take a few minutes to explore that concept.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines poverty as the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions or debility due to malnutrition. This is a material or physically focused definition. In fact, this is the way most people in the North America define poverty when asked. But according to a study done by the World Bank in the 1990s, if you ask people who live in low-income countries, they by and large describe their condition in psychological and social terms. While they recognize their material lack, they talk more about things like shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness.1Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor … And Yourself, (Moody Publishers, 2009) p. 53 

Dimensions of Poverty

The inclusion of the psychological and social dimensions alongside the material aspects of poverty leads us to a much fuller understanding of what poverty means. Rather than being based on a lack of material things, that lack of material things can be seen as a symptom of a deeper problem: The result of broken relationships. If poverty is broken relationships, the symptoms of poverty can be felt in spiritual, social, environmental, psychological, in addition to material ways.

Take some time to reflect on this diagram that outlines the concept of poverty:


Here are some questions if you want to explore this a little deeper.

  • What are some non-material ways that people all over the world experience poverty?
  • How have you defined poverty?
  • If you’ve had a “material definition of poverty,” has that influenced the way you’ve approached working with the poor? If so, how?
  • How is your view of poverty and how you approach engaging in poverty issues challenged by this definition of poverty?

The Challenge

A fundamental question that arises from looking at poverty being rooted in the brokenness of foundational relationships is: Who are the poor? We soon realise that we all are poor in the one or the other way. Often, we experience brokenness in more than one of the categories.

It’s time to rethink our views of poverty. Seek to deepen your understanding of poverty by examining your own life. Then, probe the lives of those who do not live in material poverty. Look for evidence of poverty in ways you haven’t before.

Lastly, we know that the greatest poverty one can experience is not having a relationship with the true God. The God who loves us unconditionally. The fullness of life that the Gospel talks about, is not manifested in material abundance, but in the experience of love and a deep spiritual connection with our Creator. 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor … And Yourself, (Moody Publishers, 2009) p. 53