Spring Luncheon with
Brian Fikkert

I want to share with you a story of a woman named Margaret.

Margaret’s husband died of HIV in 1997 and she’s been living with HIV ever since. In South Sudan, a country where this disease is often misunderstood and stigmatized, Margaret is a tremendous encouragement to her community.

She starts her own ministry, but of course she has a hard time supporting herself in this ministry and supporting her children.

So, along comes Seed Effect and Seed Effect provides her with microfinance services, access to capital – banking services that you and I take for granted.

And because she has access to those banking services she’s able to get the capital she needs to start a small business. She uses that small business to support herself and her children to pay school fees for her kids and to enable her to continue in ministry to other people who have HIV.

That’s as good as you will ever see. When people (with HIV aids), in the context of civil war are launched into ministry. It’s crazy. And that’s what God is doing through Seed Effect.

Now, how you get there is fundamentally a miracle. But there are some basic principles that we have learned about poverty alleviation that Seed Effect is following and I want to share those with you today.

I am a professor so there is always a quiz, here is our opening quiz. Imagine you want to give your money to Haiti after the earthquake. You start searching for the best organization that you want to give your money to.

What questions would you like answered before writing a check to give to Haiti?

  • How much goes to the people on the ground in Haiti?
  • How much is going to overhead?
  • How much money goes to the Haitians?
  • Quality of their programs?
  • What do the Haitians need?
  • Are you giving them a fish or teaching them how to fish?

Those are all excellent questions. But I am going to challenge you with one more question.

How does the organization answer the question, “what is poverty?”

You see, when you go to the doctor the first thing the doctor tries to do is diagnose you, out of the diagnosis is when the doctor tries to treat you.

A couple things could go wrong here:

  • The doctor could misdiagnosis you, give you the wrong treatment, you might get better but you might get worse.
  • Another thing the doctor could do is treat the symptoms rather than the underlying causes.

Imagine you go to the doctor and say “Doctor, I’ve got a headache”

Which then, he treats you with two aspirin. And that might make the headache go away but what if you got a brain tumor?

Treating symptoms rather than underlying causes could actually kill you.

And notice it doesn’t matter:

  • How much the doctor loves you
  • If the doctor is a Baptist or Presbyterian
  • How calm the doctor is

All that matters is that the doctor did the diagnosis correct.

It’s same when you are working with people who are poor. If we miss diagnosis of the problem or we treat the symptoms rather than the underlying causes, we could actually hurt the poor in the very process of trying to help them.

Good intentions are not enough.

Different diagnoses of the causes of poverty lead to different proposed solutions.

  • If we think that poverty is due to a lack of knowledge, we would propose education.
  • If we think that poverty is due to the pressure of powerful people, we would work with social justice.
  • If we think that poverty is due to personal sense of approval, we would focus on evangelism and discipleship.

How the organization answers the question, “What is poverty?” shapes everything about what the organization is actually going to do alleviate poverty.

So understanding the answer to the question “what is poverty” is the most important thing.

I want to guide your attention to this diagnosis: a lack of material things. Because if you ask most North Americans, “What is poverty?” they will say a lack of food, a lack of shelter, a lack of clothing, a lack of money.

Americans have defined poverty as a lack of material things, so their solution is to provide material things for poor people, and there is a place for that.

This is true at a national level, and our federal welfare program. This is what you and I do when we stop at a street corner. There is a homeless person standing there and we roll down our window and we put a quarter in that persons hand. We’re defining their problem as a lack of money, and we treat it by giving them money.

There is a reason for this. There is a reason that Americans and all of Western Civilization, tends to the communal understand of poverty.

This is at the very core of who we are as people.

It goes like this:

Western Civilization says that if there is a God, then He is separate from His world. So the world runs like a clothed machine, the world operates by the physical laws of nature. The world is fundamentally material in nature and apart of that material nature is human beings.

Western Civilization has defined human beings fundamentally material in nature and hence, prosperity for a good life for this creature is greater consumption of material.

Human flourishing has defined the western civilization as fundamentally material in nature.

We need a different story.

What is the Bible’s answer to the question of what is poverty? The Bible doesn’t communicate a God that is distant and removed, rather the Bible communicates a God that is deeply connected to its world.

Colossians 1 says that “Jesus Christ is the creator and sustainer of all things.”

He makes the sun go up and down every evening. He is deeply connected. He is present. He is with us. He is not divorced from his world. He is a deeply relational God. And as human beings created in His image we are not simply material creatures. We are body and soul.

Now most people agree with this, but our understanding of this is not what the Bible actually says.

Most of us think of the body and soul as separate. Think of it as a cup, see in my analogy, think of the body as the glass and the soul as the water, they are separable. The body contains the soul, but you can pour it out. That is not what the Bible teaches, the Bible teaches that the body and the soul are highly integrated.

What happens to us spiritually effects us physically and what happens to us physically effects us spiritually.

We are wired for relationship.

Relationship with God, self, others, and with the rest of creation.

  • To walk in fellowship with God
  • To see ourselves as image bearers
  • Ability to work
  • Capacity to have relationship with others
  • Deep sense of community

To be stewards over creation, develop it with our work, and as an offering to God.

Human flourishing isn’t more stuff, but it is our entire personhood to live in the right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.

As we bring ourselves to bare the created order, we create culture, we create systems. Economic, political, religion, social systems as expressions of our fundamental purpose of God, self, others, and the rest of creation.

But then the fall happens, individuals are broken in the fall and systems are broken in the fall. Individuals engaged in behaviors that contribute to material poverty. And systems crush the poor and contribute to material poverty, the fall effect both.

So as dealt with both broken individuals and broken systems, we have broken relationships.

We have poverty of spiritual intimacy. We are not experiencing our relationship with God the way He intended.

We have a poverty of need. We don’t understand who we are. We have a poverty of community we are lonely and isolated.

I heard earlier this week, that Britain just appointed a position in the British ministry called the Director of Loneliness. Because Western Civilization is creating very lonely people.

Poverty in stewardship. We are not really stewarding creation the way we are supposed to…

What I am trying to say to you folks is this:

When we see a person who is materially poor, that material poverty is a symptom of something that is deeper. It is a symptom of the underlying brokenness in the key relationships that we have with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.

We have to stop treating the stymptoms and start treating the root problems.

We have to stop treating the symptoms and start treating the root problems. Thats the point.

When you see the homeless person on the street corner and you give them a dollar, that is treating the symptom and not the underlying cause. You know that homeless person will be out there another day asking for money again.  Why? Cause that is us treating the symptom and nit the underlying cause.

We have got get down to treating the underlying cause.

I was talking recently to the head of a major christian lead development agency, he was just stepping down from his position and I said to him “Terry when you look back at your career, what is your take away?”

And he said “Oh that is very simple, Brian there is no short cuts, and we keep trying to use shortcuts.” He said “We rush in with bricks, and boards, and wells and malaria nets and penicillin, which are all helpful by the way. But we are building it on sinking sand. At the heart of the community are people, and at the heart of the people is the human soul.”

Were building bricks and more on foundations that can’t sustain it. And what that looks like is this. You go overseas, and there are signs all over the entrance to the community, that this organization works here. And that organization helps here. It is an alphabet soup of organizations that help in that community.

What you find is that millions of dollars is being poured into that community and there is nothing left. Because we are building on sinking sand.

At the foundation of the community is people, and at the foundation of the people is a human soul. And once that human soul is living at a right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation it can’t sustain what we are building on it. 

We have to get down to the core issues of reconciled relationships. To be able to address poverty in a sustainable way.

What is poverty?

Poverty is the inability to fully experience human flourishment.

Poor relationships are not working in the way that God designed them to work.

Once you define poverty in that way, it fixes everything in your ministry, your program design, your sources. Everything is being oriented towards trying to restore people to right relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.

Trying to help people understand who they are in Christ as image barriers. Called to bring life and glory to God almighty.

That is what Margret is doing in the opening slide. You don’t get Margret, an HIV Aids sufferer, ministering to honor HIV Aids victims by throwing money at them.

You can’t get there that way, it takes something else to create a Margret.

Poverty is rooted in broken relationships so therefore poverty needs reconciled relationships.

Colossians 1 says,

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Through Jesus Christ and through his death and resurrection, the reconciliation of all things is happening.

But folks what the church of Jesus Christ has done in America is reduce Jesus to solve our legal problems. But he does so much more.

He is reconciling all things.

For the little girl sold into a brothel, this message is not just I am solving your legal problems. This message is, my kingdom is coming, and you can here it coming. And it is bringing peace and shalom and justice as far as the curse is found.

It is a bigger Jesus.

Many of us were raised on a Star Trek Jesus.

And the face of HIV Aids, and the face of little girls being sold into brothels, and the civil war in Southern Sudan – all Jesus can do is beam our souls up out of here like in Star Trek.

That is not the Jesus of the Bible.

Luke 4:43 says,

“But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God”

That is why I said Jesus is ushering a kingdom that is bringing healing as far as the curse has found, that is who our Jesus is. He is the one that reconciles all things. Restoring people to right relationship with God, self, others and the rest of creation.

By overcoming broken individuals and by overcoming broken systems, that’s the good news of the Gospel.

For what we have been told is that we are sinners and that there is a big courthouse in the sky and a piece of paper that says “Brian, pleaded guilty and deserves eternal punishment” and what Christ does is pay the penalty.

So, what do we do with this? How does this inform how we work with the materially poor?

The first thing is this: The local church is absolutely essential to poverty alleviation. Christ is embodied in the local church. 

Jesus dwells in the local church. If you want to find Jesus go find the local church. When the Word is preached and the Lord’s supper is served – Christ’s presence is there. He is the healer and he is the one who brings restoration with God, self, others and the rest of creation.

But, hey guess what? Most poverty allevitation work in the United States and around the world is done apart from the local church.

If you ask the relief workers what they think of the local church, here are some of the answers:

  • They stink
  • They can’t do anything
  • They are irrelevant
  • They get in our way

But not Seed Effect. Seed Effect says we are going to work through the local church. Because it is Christ incarnated, He is the healer.

Proclamation of the Gospel is absolutely essential to poverty alleviation. Why? Because Jesus Christ is the healer and faith comes through hearing. And the verbal proclamation of the Gospel is absolutely essential to how Seed Effect is working.

To the individuals and the broken systems, because both of those things are fallen and both of those contribute to the broken relationships at the core of poverty.

How is Seed Effect doing that?

By verbally communicating the gospel and putting people in community, they are addressing broken individuals. Helping people understand that they are image barriers and created in the image of the God Almighty – that is how you get Margaret.

You are a restored image barrier of Christ, called to spread his praises and worship as far as the curse is found. That is who you are.

They can get the capital that they need but they don’t have access to savings and farming services. So can Seed Effect change the entire Global financial system? They can’t, but they can change it for 10 women in that particular group. And they can help those 10 women in that group have access to a financial system that works for them so they can get the help that they need and capitals they need to start their businesses.

They are changing the systems at a very micro level.

And we have got to know when to apply relief and rehab and development.

Not all poverty is exactly the same.

When you see the homeless person on the street corner, and you see people in Indonesia after the tsunami, they look the same – they are both lacking food, shelter and clothing.

But these situations are not the same. There is something chronic going on with he homeless person. And there is something more immediate going on with the person who survived the tsunami.

That is because we have to distinguish between these three things. Here we go.

Blind on the side of the road bleeding to death, the good samaritan does stuff for him. But once the bleeding has stopped the relief must stop. And that is when we move to rehabilitation. It’s helping restore people to the pre crisis condition.

When you move from relief into rehab, you stop doing things to people or for people and you start doing things with people. You ask them to bring their own gifts, their own resources, and their own abilities to the table.

Why? Because you are a bunch of uptight Republicans…. no. Well you might be… but that is not why. You do it because the goal is not just stuff, but the goal is restoration to God, self, others and the rest of creation.

People often say, “they have nothing.” That is simply not true. They have stuff, they have abilities, they have gifts, they can do things. Just look at MargaretAnd so Seed Effect is saying lets not do relief when the bleeding stops. Lets work in rehabilitation and development.

Asset based development focuses on the inherant gifts, talents and abilities. 

The ability to save is a profound gift and Americans don’t have it anymore. We stink at saving. You have people in refugee camps who are willing to save money, you don’t want to crush that gift. It is a profoundly important gift.

There are inherant gifts and abilities and to mobilize those gifts and abilities is an asset based approach.

I have a final word. And that word is repentance.

Repentance of material understanding of the universe. Repentance of material understanding of human flourishing. And embracing of the Good News of Jesus Christ of Colossians 1, that the people in South Sudan are broken, and that you and I are broken.

But his kingdom comes to bring healing as far as the curse is found. Lets press into Him.

 

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