In the past year, TCT has suddenly expanded in what I would refer to as a rather alarming rate. Others, who like growth, probably wouldn’t use the word alarming. Since the beginning of the year we have trained people to set up TCT programs in Uganda, DR Congo, Delhi, India and Hyderabad, India. Next month we are in South Sudan. We’ve also presented the ideas at a number of conferences.
The more I share the program the more I am left asking myself ‘what really is the basis of this program? What are the goals of the program? How do we help people really understand how to implement it?’ The program actually has three goals- the first to glorify God, the second to see churches grow in maturity and size and the third is to see communities move out of poverty. It’s amazing how quickly people embrace the third goal, missing the first two. The program, and sometimes the way we present it, can seem like a tried and tested ‘get out of poverty fast’ solution for rural communities. And that’s not completely wrong, hundreds of communities have moved out of poverty as a result of God working through this program. And yet that’s also the difference. It’s as a result of GOD working through this program, not the program itself. The more I ponder what God has done, the more I wonder whether their sudden movement out of poverty has less to do with the mechanics of the things they did but rather is a consequence of churches striving to bring glory to God and seeking to be wholistically discipled. Often the churches we work with have little understanding of poverty alleviation and certainly little knowledge of current best practices, tools and technology. Instead they just want to obey God. If God says we need to care for our children well, not treat them like possessions, then we start to send them to school. If He tells us that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Psalm 24:1) then we need to be a good steward of any property that we have, using it in the best way possible. If we are commanded to use the talents he has given us (Matthew 25) then we need to work and serve diligently. For most churches and communities this becomes their focus. Obeying God and trying to live as he intends.
In Part 1 of When Helping Hurts, the authors touch on the dilemma of what really alleviates poverty. In the start of chapter three, Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett remind us that we not only need to understand the causes of poverty but we need to understand the definition of success. What are we really aiming for? From there we can start to think about how we can really work towards poverty alleviation. The authors contend that the goal is ‘to restore people to a full expression of humanness, to being what God created us all to be, people who glorify God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others and with the rest of creation.’ (P74) Poverty alleviation is the process of bringing that about.
Unfortunately as we seek to make this a reality many of us labor under a broken understanding of reality (page 87-90). We’ve come to believe a form of evangelical gnosticism which implies that God is outside of the world and only cares about spiritual issues – things like prayer, bible reading, church attendance and good moral behaviour. God’s concern is not seen as expanding to areas such as health, agriculture, work or houses. Out of this flows a broken model – we divide things into spiritual and material. From there we try to solve spiritual problems with spiritual solutions and material problems with material solutions. As a result we fail to relate God, who is the one who can truly restore, into issues that are considered material.
God’s solution seems a little different. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, Solomon prays about what to do if the people fall away from God and into complete poverty. God’s response is relatively simple ‘If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.’ Who heals the land, who restores them? God. We need to seek to walk in obedience to God in every area of our lives. Or as Brian and Steve would say, we need to seek the reconciliation of all our relationships.
When I started writing the TCT program, my goal was to see health, education, agriculture etc improved by teaching churches the latest and greatest methods. However, my perspective in the last few years has been challenged. Often, as churches sought God, sought to love their neighbour, sought to obey God in every area of life, they moved out of poverty. Rarely did they embrace any of the new fangled tools and ideas. Instead the transition from poverty was inexplicable.
In every community for which I know the story of their journey out of poverty, there are stories of miracles – amazing ways that God has multiplied their efforts. Sometimes the community leaders didn’t even recognise them. One pastor shared with us that he felt concerned about the drug use in his community so he called the whole community together and told them to stop using drugs. They all agreed and from that day forth they were drug free. My limited knowledge of heroin would indicate that if everyone agreed and stopped overnight that was a miracle. I’ve watched others struggle far more giving up heroin. In other villages there are testimonies of land growing more or God providing building materials. (More stories can be found at TCTprogram.org/stories). Much of the transformation that happened in each community was brought about by God.
I’m not going to tell you I have a new 1 step plan for moving out of poverty. I will say that I think our traditional ideas need to be challenged. A woman I met from a large Christian NGO, shared – “we never see miracles like that happen in our work, but at the same time we write such clear and tight plans that we never allow for miracles, we never make space for them. Really, who would?” What does it take to see poverty end? Clear and tight plans? Or maybe the bible is right, it happens as “my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” It’s worth pondering.