It is interesting that even global leaders such as World Bank’s President, Jim Yong Kim, acknowledge the important role of faith in ending extreme poverty. During a 2015 conference that I attended he said: “I believe that some of the most important leaders in the movement to end extreme poverty will be people of faith, people who are motivated fundamentally to help the most vulnerable among us.” He also noted that the number of people living in extreme poverty, defined as less than $1.25 a day, has been cut in half since 1990. On that basis of past achievements and a strong movement out of faith communities, he expressed confidence that an ambitious goal to end extreme poverty by 2030 could be reached (source.)
Faith is the fundamental driver to World Renew’s work in ending poverty. Faith is what drove me to take up the challenge of cycling in the Sea to Sea ride to end the cycle of poverty. Why is faith so critical? Ephesians 6:16 provides a response to this question with a reminder that when we “take up the shield of faith, we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” With the powerful energy of faith in God and from God motivating us, we can put an end to those flaming attacks that seek to push people into poverty, keep them in poverty and push donors away from walking alongside people in poverty.
"Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades." - Pope Francis
Without realizing at the time I purchased my bicycle, there is a shield placed front and center on the head tube of the main frame !This section of the bicycle supports the handle bars for steering the bike, supports the front wheel for moving forward and supports the crossbar that connects the rider’s seat. The symbolism here is incredibly rich! If faith is the shield, it is faith that supports our ability to steer poverty reduction programs in the right direction. It is faith that provides the energy to move forward in confidence that poverty can end. It is faith that connects us as a rider to participate actively in the journey of overcoming poverty. Faith calls us to action and not to be a bystander when it comes to ending the cycle of poverty.
This shield of faith, as Ephesians 6:16 notes, also has another major function. It stops flaming attacks. What are the “attacks” that come at a cyclist and that a head tube or main frame of a bicycle helps to stop? I think about the force of strong winds, of bugs in the air, of dogs eager to bite and of branches suddenly sticking out in rural trails. It sure helps at such times to have a strong shield of a frame to be the frontal force against these threats.
What are the “flaming attacks” that our faith needs to counteract as we work to end poverty? The most dangerous attacks are the ones that prevent us from hearing God’s voice that is calling us to listen carefully, to give generously and to serve actively. Pope Francis in his Evangelii Gaudium highlights this so wisely when he states:
“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ” (source.)
How do we counteract the flaming arrows of apathy, donor fatigue and skepticism? World Renew tries to engage supporters in volunteer opportunities, discovery tours and workshops that encourage generosity, genuine listening and meaningful, direct connections. How do we respond to the flaming arrows of fear and lack of confidence that contribute to poor leadership in communities of poverty? We provide training on good governance and use an asset-based approach that highlights how God’s rich gifts of love and creation’s resources can accomplish far more than people originally imagined. How do we extinguish the flaming arrows of prejudice, racism, ethnocentricism and gender injustice that sideline the power and potential of people in communities? We try to bring groups that have been in conflict together in peacebuilding and trauma healing projects such as the work with the Fulani and Tiv in Central Nigeria (see story HERE.)
While technical programs in agriculture, health, economic / business development are helpful to build skills for human development, it is really the value-laden interventions that help to reach the heart for sustaining human development. Prayer is our powerful connection to God that enables us to do this in faith and with intent listening to his direction and how he is at work already in people’s lives.
The head tube, where my bicycle has a shield, is the place that I lean into with my full weight whenever I am facing a challenge of climbing a hill or facing a strong headwind. As I do so, I trust that it will not buckle under. Overcoming the challenges of poverty requires a significant leaning into the shield of faith that God provides. It is my prayer that we will all lean heavily in trust and faith in God even as we pedal forward with all our strength. As Psalm 46 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
How will your faith be stronger today to help end poverty tomorrow?
World Renew Canada