Facts and figures on world poverty are alarming, with an estimated 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty – one quarter of the population of the developing world. Men, women and children needlessly die in their millions each year because of disease, hunger, lack of water and sanitation. Women and children, the defenceless, are especially helpless. The environment is continuously being exploited, especially at the expense of the most vulnerable.
The reported additional financial resources needed to eradicate poverty are easily realizable given the world monetary resources available. According to World Bank figures, an additional US$80 billion a year is all that is required – less than a tenth of what is annually spent on world military.
However, financial resources in the fight against poverty are not the whole answer. Increased spending on health, nutrition, water, sanitation and so forth using the traditional socio-economic approach to poverty reduction will go a long way to help, but spend in these areas will not necessarily tackle the consequences of wrongdoing that bring about poverty or intensify it: greed, corruption, oppression, selfish actions. Indeed, on occasions increased funding and resultant outcomes of “development” projects seem to exacerbate the problem and fuel selfish actions – it is all too easy for admirable efforts to fail in the longer-term.
Rather than just take the traditional economic and physical approach to poverty, this research looks at a more integral or holistic approach. An integral approach includes the building of relationships between people at all levels of society, on the basis that if people genuinely care for one another, then poverty will be tackled as an outcome. If people’s actions are motivated by the care for one another, by selfless actions then good governance will result, fair policies will be developed and implemented, healthy communities will grow. Such a perspective doesn’t exclude physical actions in the areas of food security, health, education and so forth, rather it complements it. Such an approach will also help tackle problems such as the breakdown of family life and communities – the integrity of which is seen by many as essential in combating poverty.
An integral approach from a Christian perspective centres on the Biblical narrative – that people are on a journey, participating in building a just and fair world here on earth now to tackle deprivation in all its forms so that every person may enjoy fullness of life, which will be brought to completion at the end of time – the eschaton. The journey is very relational in nature, building relations with God, and with one another. Such a Christian perspective has many relational and end time aspects that are common in other faiths, but are generally excluded from a traditional approach, which centres on the here and now with a socio-economic focus.
Thus to tackle poverty effectively and sustainably, people of all status need to be liberated from their wrong ways that bring about poverty; people need to be released from such bondage so that they may find new ways of doing things, ways that transform human relationships, ways that embrace the love of one another with resultant justice, equality, peace and hope.
From a Christian standpoint, The Triune God has provided the means to achieve this. Out of His love for all people and for all of creation, God the Father gave His one and only Son, Christ Jesus of Nazareth, and raised Him to life by the power of the Holy Spirit so that all may be redeemed: in order that all people may be forgiven for their transgressions and be liberated from such bondage. Such a freedom will provide the decisive solution to poverty. Through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus it is possible for people to be reconciled to God. As individuals develop their relationship with the Father though Christ Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit, then the individual’s communion with the Triune God grows. And as this communion with God grows, then they, in the ever-increasing likeness of Christ Jesus, will reflect more and more of God’s love for others. Individuals being transformed in this way will have a growing desire to participate in God’s mission – and amongst many other worthy things, have a desire to respond to the challenges of reducing poverty, motivated by the love of God and the love of others. People will learn to love one another, will turn to selfless actions and values.
Such a redemptive plan, deemed from Old Testament times, is part of God’s mission: that people of all nations may enjoy fullness of life. Poverty in the world is against God’s will, and He is active to bring about a change, to bring about His kingdom here on earth, a kingdom where there will be right relationships with Him and with one another - and as a consequence poverty will become history. The kingdom is for all people and working for the kingdom means opposing what is wrong in the world and seeking what is good, to build relationships, to serve and to forgive one another. The kingdom will reach fulfilment, be brought into perfection, at the end of time with the gift of eternal life for His people.
Mission is God’s mission (missio Dei), and it is a mission that goes beyond the church. It embraces everything that God is doing in the world through people and nations to establish His Kingdom here on earth – within the church and beyond the church. It is a mission that all Christians are called to participate and have an immense privileged to do so. Thus God’s work is not limited to the endeavours of the church, but the church does have a special role, sent by God to continue in His mission. Whilst Christians are called to participate, it is not dependant on them: God’s activities extend wider than the church and God has been active since the beginning of time, going before the church to all people and all nations, active in all creation through those of other faiths and those of no faith. Such a truth should be an encouragement to Christians and non-Christians alike, that there is an almighty and loving God at work in the world bringing about change in all places, with and beyond the church.
Thus the church and people of the world are on a journey, being transformed. The church has a central role in this, sent by God to participate in His mission. As the church actively gets engaged in God’s mission, she herself becomes more and more transformed into the likeness of Christ Jesus. As non-Christians experience the witness and proclamation of the Gospel message in word and deed, as they experience God working through them, they too are transformed.
While the importance of the Church is evident, there is the acknowledgement that the church can often be part of the problem when it comes to poverty. However, the global communion of churches in general recognizes her weaknesses and works to correct them. It is important not to confuse the church with God; the church makes no claim to be perfect, but strives to be so and points to the Christ Jesus who is.
The kingdom of God is of concern for all people. Everyone is on a journey, and God is able to work through all people, without them necessarily acknowledging Him or accepting Christ Jesus as Lord. Thus transformation towards doing the right thing can occur without there being salvation. These instances are part of the journey, as people seek faith, healing and a desire for forgiveness. And the journey will be complete when it leads to salvation in Jesus Christ, with the eternal significance that God desires for all.
The centrality of God’s mission in Christian relief and development organizational thinking and planning is essential. God’s mission provides the framework for all that is done organizationally, internally and externally: it provides a means to prioritize activities, to measure achievements. It permits the organization to give precedence to the Gospel over people’s desires, to offer the highest understanding and meaning of why it is doing what it is doing: and positively determine when it has achieved what it set out to achieve. To be able to take part in God’s mission provides a powerful and purposeful role for the organization and all who are connected with it.
In applying the missio Dei concept to Christian relief and development organizations, a logical framework approach has been taken using the following generic vision and mission statements for the organization:
- Vision: to participate in God’s mission to restore all creation to wholeness.
- Mission: to be faithful witnesses in word and deed to God’s redeeming love and work.
To achieve such a mission, the task of the organizations’ staff, supporters and partners is summarized as: revealing a new way of living and working, according to kingdom ways and values; and being involved in action bearing witness to God’s redeeming love.
Indicators of success centre on obedience to God, rather than measurements of outcomes or results.
In the work and life of a Christian organization, the spiritual and physical cannot be separated. These two aspects are integral and thus the mission of the organization is one where “evangelism” and social action go together: integral mission. A church or Christian organization that is engaging in just one aspect or other will always be incomplete – they will ultimately fail the people they serve.
At the International congress on World Evangelism in Lausanne in 1974, evangelism was defined as “The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world”. Evangelism involves witnessing, and witness is central to the life of a Christian and a Christian organization. There are various forms of witness but no set formula. Whilst ultimately the process of witness to Christ Jesus must include the proclamation of the Word of God, the aid offered to the poor remains totally unconditional. The motivation to help the poor is one of reflecting God’s love for those in need: it will only be through love that right relationships will come about, that transformation will take place. The love of God and love for others should be the driving force for all Christian organizations.
Participating in God’s mission will inevitably shape the structure, policies, and personnel mix of a Christian organization, as well as determine how they work, who they work with and work through. The need to be connected to God in all that is said and done is fundamental to the working of a Christian organization and will have implications on: strategy development; implementation of projects, staff recruitment and deployment; and partner selection.
The drawing together of Christians from the Two-thirds world and the Western world, and the local and global coming together, will provide a coordinated response using their various gifts. Such a joined-up response, rooted in the accompaniment and empowerment of the local church and development of local leadership will help provide greater sustainability. A liaison of the Christian, other faiths and the secular, each with their distinctive contribution, will acknowledge the sovereignty of God and His ability to work through all.
Finally, there is a central place for the practice of Christian spiritual disciplines in the life of a Christian organization and its Christian partners. The importance of being in communion with God and being able to discern His will cannot be overstated. And that to know His will is a tremendous blessing, but also a massive responsibility to carry it out (Pearson 1995, p54,55).