Recently I gathered the students from my church, Church of Christ the King in Brighton, UK, who were taking degrees or modules in Development Studies from the local universities. I had become aware that these courses, being secular in nature, tend to discourage our students by having little place for the spiritual dimension of mankind. And yet, if true transformation is going to take place – which must be one of the major goals of any development programme – it is important to address the ‘inner man’ not just the outward circumstances. Understandably, secular courses do not make room for such a consideration.
What is Development?
We began the evening by asking the question ‘What is Development?’ On a flip-chart I was able to write contributions from them such as ‘modernisation’, ‘growth’, ‘improvement’. Other words which I could have expected would have been ‘empowerment’, ‘sustainability’, ‘trade’. Sadly, the one word I would have liked to hear but did not was ‘transformation‘. This surely is the word that best describes true change.
Who are the Poor?
Next we sought to define ‘Poor’. Surprisingly no-one came up with a ‘finance’ word though many used the phrase ‘lack of’. However, I was delighted to be offered ‘disenfranchised’, ‘limited options’, ‘trapped’. Such words describe the way that those who are poor or disadvantaged often feel – they have little control of their lives or destiny. These words point us to the potential fruit of the gospel.
From a biblical perspective John Stott defines poverty in three categories (Issues Facing Christians Today, Zondervan 2006):
- The indigent poor – those who lack the basic necessities of life such as food or clothing or shelter.
- The oppressed poor – those who are powerless victims of human injustice or oppressive life circumstances.
- The humble poor – those who acknowledge their helplessness and look to God alone for salvation.
Under at least one of these definitions each of us is poor! I then reminded the students, from scripture, how Jesus came to ‘bring good news to the poor’ (Is 61:1), ‘… did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped … taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men’ (Phil 2:6, 7) and ‘… though he was rich yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich’ (2 Cor 8:9).
We then began to look at why Christian Development and Social Action differ from the world’s model. We will look further at this in the next blog.