[notice]Pastor Afrika Mhlophe considers the situation of poor people and the Biblical injunction to care for them.[/notice]
The recently released matric results have again reminded us of the difference that exist between resourced and under resourced schools. Excellent academic achievement is something of a norm for resourced schools and an exception for under resourced schools. This brings me to the subject of poverty.
The Bible says the poor will always be with us but the same Bible implores us to care for poor. A lot of data and information has been published on the subject of poverty and its possible causes. What can be extrapolated from some of the data is that poverty seems to be endemic and systematic. This means that, although it affects all people groups, it tends to be widespread among certain groupings. Poverty works in such a way that when it gets hold of a certain community, it tends to tighten its grip on that community. In other words certain groups of people tend to be more predisposed to material lack than others. This is because of their background and social conditioning.
We frown upon a poor person who comes from a rich background because we suspect he/she may have squandered resources but we are pleasantly surprised by a rich person who comes from a poor background. The stories of those who came from rags to riches are made of people who had to overcome all odds to attain those riches. This means that there were many odds that were stacked against them. This is the main challenge that the poor are faced with. Many are not lazy or lack initiative but have to contend with doors being shut in their face. Telling them to pull themselves by the boot straps is simplistic at least and insulting at most. What if they are not even wearing boots to begin with or if the hole they are in is too deep?
Others say if the poor work hard then they will escape their poverty. I beg to differ. There are many people who work hard and yet are not rich. Think of farm workers, mine workers, construction workers, etc. I believe it is hard and smart work that leads to accelerated material gain. How then do the poor work smart if they have no opportunity to become smart or if they have no access to information? I submit that the primary cause of poverty is a lack of opportunities and access to information. This does not take away the fact that there are people who choose not to optimally use the opportunities made available to them. These kinds of people are in the minority and the majority are denied even the most basic of opportunities.
The reduction of extreme poverty is one of United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. Poverty is demoralising and can never be said to be God’s will for any person. The poor are often subject to abuse and ill treatment. The value of their lives is considered less than those who are wealthier. Mortality rates are high amongst poverty-stricken neighbourhoods. Infant mortality and homicides are disproportionally high. In other words when you are poor, you don’t only stand a chance of dying poor but also of dying because you are poor. Life expectancy in poorer countries is lower than in rich countries and this is despite the fact that the rich have to deal with lifestyle conditions like obesity, diabetes, etc.
One of the things that poverty does to a person is that it takes away their dignity and self worth. Notice that when you give something to a poor person he tends to bow. He does this out of gratitude but also because he considers you to be somehow superior to him. Indicators show us that in some parts of the world poverty is growing instead of declining. In our own country we have seen that within the last 15 years the gap between the rich and poor has widened. Many of us would be quick to say that the government is responsible to take care of the poor. This is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible tells us that the role of government is that of enforcing the law. This means that the government is there to set and maintain the legislative framework.
If we all took the responsibility of caring for just one underprivileged individual, what would happen? I mean real caring and not just acts we do to placate our conscience. Caring enough to engross yourself in the life of that person for the sole purpose of imparting values and principles that will lift him/her out of his/her limitations. Caring enough to adopt, mentor, father and give a hand up to a person who has a potential that needs to be actualised. If we don’t do these things then we will always indeed have the poor with us. It is time that we open the doors that have been constantly shut in the face of the poor. Make 2012 a year where you can make a tangible difference in someone’s life. I plan to.