5 Key Principles for Working with the Poor: #3 God Made the Glass Half Full

This is the third in five posts covering key principles in ministry with the poor intended to help churches move from transactional to transformational ministry.  In the previous post, we discussed the importance of maintaining dignity when we help the poor.

3. God Made the Glass Half Full

“What really works is defining a community by its strengths, resources, achievements and hopes—not by its degree of brokenness.” – Angela Blanchard

Not long ago, World Concern was interviewing people at a church about their partnership with our One Village Transformed program. I sat down with a little boy and asked him why he wanted to help people in the village where his church was partnering.  Here’s what he told me:

“They don’t have a school. They don’t have a lot of silverware, and they don’t have a lot of food.  They don’t have a very good well.  They don’t have enough shelter.  They don’t get very much rain.  They don’t have very much grass to plant.  They don’t have very much clothes. They don’t have very much stuff in their homes.”

Although I’m not sure about the silverware, he did what we all hope to do by responding with compassion to the brokenness of poverty we see in pictures and videos. Actually, his description wasn’t far off from the reality of that village.

In the first two blog posts I’ve been critical of the “See a problem, fix a problem” approach we commonly take in helping the poor. So, if we should respond with compassion to situations of brokenness, what am I suggesting?

When we directly address the problems we can see, like delivering a shipment of clothing, or … silverware, it reinforces the problems to the people and to ourselves. We (both them and us) begin to think of them in terms of what’s wrong. We forget about the God-given skills and abilities that each one possesses.

I recently watched a trailer for an upcoming documentary called “Landfill Harmonic.” The opening quote sums it up well. “The world sends us garbage. We send back music.” The documentary shows how one man is taking pieces of garbage from the landfill and making musical instruments for kids. The kids in the village have tremendous musical ability, and the man making the instruments out of garbage seems like a genius to me.

What if we helped build on that skill by offering him a micro loan to expand that as a business? Of course, we wouldn’t break our first principle; we would start by listening to his vision for the future. But, there is so much ability there that could be built upon.  And, the trickledown effect is that the people will begin to use their success to address areas they see as problems. It’s quite possible the changes you wanted to see will in fact happen, but they happen by building on what worked, not on what was broken.