Tuesday, July 31, 2007

the problem of poverty

I am reading a book, called To Live in Peace. It was written by Mark Gornik, founding pastor of New Song Community Church, the epicenter of a community development movement in Sandtown, one of Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods. At New Song, church isn't just music and a sermon on Sunday, but rather a holistic call to serve the oppressed and fight for justice on their behalf. It's an amazing movement, complete with a fair housing initiative through Habitat, job training and placement services, a fantastic school, a free clinic, and an arts program for neighborhood kids. They've been at it for nearly 20 years, and they're still going strong.

I am beginning to think about graduate school - most likely a master's in international development. Part of that process is figuring out the 'why'. Why a master's in the first place? Why international development? A large part of me just wants to go back to school for the sake of attending classes again, but somehow that doesn't seem to justify giving up a full-time job and going $40K+ into debt. And then I read books by people like Gornik and wonder if my life is better lived in places like Sandtown. Do I really need a master's to know how to serve the oppressed, the outcast, the victims of injustice?

Check out this quote, found in To Live in Peace but written by a German theologian named Jurgen Moltmann:

"The true fellowship of the poor is of more value than all the alms and development aid of the rich. The problem of poverty in the world is not solved by programmes which mobilize "the church for the poor" or try to win "the poor for the church," but only through the church of the poor itself. Whatever state church and other rich and well-organized churches can do in the way of help, the apostolic charge remains central: to found congregations at the lowest level, congregations which independently discover their powers and potentialities in the liberating history of Christ; for the fellowship of the poor and suffering Christ is the secret of the 'holy church' and the
communion of saints' " (To Live in Peace, 209).

I'm not a development expert (yet :) ), and I wonder if I want to be. If the problem of poverty in the world is best solved by the action of the local, grassroots, bottom-most-level-of-society churches, what's the point of the macro-level engagement?

That's only partially a rhetorical question.

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