The Bible gives us a model for ending extreme poverty

For this week’s Cinnamon Bite, we reproduce the Credo article by Matt Bird from The Times newspaper, Saturday Sept 26.

Matt speaking at the launch of the Cinnamon Faith Action Audits

Matt speaking at the launch of the Cinnamon Faith Action Audits

Yesterday, world leaders met at the United Nations in New York and committed to The Global Goals for Sustainable Development which, among other things, aim to end extreme poverty, and fight inequality and injustice within the next 15 years.

Some might call me a cynic, but a part of me wonders if ending extreme poverty is actually possible.

I’m writing this article from West Africa where billions of pounds have rightly been spent by Governments and NGOs on emergency relief and development, yet where the end of extreme poverty is nowhere in sight. When I step onto the streets I am swamped with beggars for whom my help will bring only momentary relief.

According to the latest figures available from the World Bank in 2011, 2.2 billion people worldwide lived on less than $2 a day. The Norwegian Refugee Council estimates that in 2014 there were 59.5 million displaced people in the world. Even here in the UK there are 3.7 million children living in extreme poverty. Add to that the numbers of people in crippling debt, the lonely, the elderly, the hungry, the homeless and the 20,000 refugees we are preparing to welcome and resettle. Whether internationally or domestically, poverty feels overwhelming and this can paralyse us from taking action.

Then we picked up the newspaper and saw the image of a young refugee washed up dead on a beach in Turkey, and something changed our hearts. Those millions of impoverished, desperate people stop being statistics and start being neighbours. We are again overwhelmed, but this time with a combination of profound love and deep guilt that we have not spoken out or acted more decisively.

So how can we act? What does it look like to “defend the rights of the poor and needy” and “welcome the stranger” in a way that is sustainable over the long term?

The Bible offers a picture of sustainable development. In Leviticus 19 ix-x, God says, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do Gleaningsnot reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you.”

The encouragement isn’t to give away part of what you have gathered, but to deliberately leave “gleanings” for those who have nothing.

Emergency aid and charity will never end extreme poverty; they are not designed to. We need to create jobs, encourage enterprise and strengthen economies in order to lift people out of poverty. It’s the difference between “giving a person a fish” and “teaching a person to fish”, as the old adage puts it. Only when people in need become gleaners and then reapers will we end systemic poverty. It needs to start with you and me.

Making up Welcome Boxes

Making up Welcome Boxes

The Derby-based initiative Welcome Box, for example, provides a way for people to meet refugees who have been newly housed in their area. The box of small gifts and local information delivered by a church volunteer with a message of welcome is the start of new relationships and the journey of integration into the community. Any of us could choose to do this.

We need The Global Goals because if we aim at nothing we’ll probably hit nothing, but Governments alone cannot end extreme poverty. We need all of the world’s citizens to be as bothered about their personal responsibility as they are about their rights and entitlements.

The recently published Cinnamon Faith Action Audit showed that 62 per cent of UK churches and faith groups are working in partnership with local authorities, police, schools, health boards and other organisations to tackle poverty and its effects in their communities. The £3 billion-worth of time given by these volunteers could be increased further by even greater partnership working.

For the benefit of humanity, let us all adopt The Global Goals and work together to end extreme poverty. We cannot do everything, but we must do something.

There is still an opportunity to find out about the Cinnamon Faith Action Audits in your local region HERE. You can find out more about Welcome Box HERE

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