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Practical Advice for Tackling Suburban Poverty

In my previous post I continued my interview with Dr. Rev. Daniel Meyer of Christ Church of Oak Brook. We looked at the roles the Gospel, government, and capitalism have in alleviating poverty. In this post I conclude my series with some practical advice on the part each of us can play to alleviate (suburban) poverty.

Many of the wealthier individuals that Dr. Meyer meets are becoming more aware of suburban poverty and as a result, are taking an active approach. Some individuals have simply increased their charitable giving. Others have taken on, arguably, larger commitments by adopting children or partnering with particular schools or under-resourced families. He has also witnessed an increase in collective giving with churches increasing their primary relief ministries (food, clothing, etc.).  He noted specifically that his church’s own food pantry has grown dramatically over the past few years.

There are also some churches that are providing comprehensive relief and betterment support, such as Willow Creek in Barrington, IL. Meyer told me that Willow Creek recently built a CARE Center which not only meets people’s basic needs, but also provides betterment support of job assistance, a health clinic, and even dental services. For those churches unable to provide such broad support, they are targeting specific pockets of poverty. One church is in my own town of West Chicago, Wheaton Bible Church. They have a large outreach to the Hispanic poor community.

On a personal level, there are many things to learn about how the Gospel affects our own micro-economic situation. That is, Christ cares that our own basic needs are met. Meyer notes that Jesus often warns us against the love of money, even sometimes personifying it as “mammon.” Meyer said, “If we’re not careful, rather than owning things, things can begin to own us.” I think this can be an important lesson for those of us who live in a capitalistic society.  Even though it’s true that when we buy things we are helping to create jobs and spread wealth, we still must allocate our resources wisely. When we buy items that we do not sufficiently use, we have actually made a bad purchase. Jesus warns against this in his teachings—as in the parable that teaches not to build up storehouses for ourselves. We should be cautious against consumerism, as it can separate us from the Kingdom of God.

“There is not a one-size-fits-all recipe for tackling poverty.”

Meyer provided some great advice for how we can help alleviate (suburban) poverty. He noted that the Bible is pretty clear regarding the value of hospitality, of entertaining strangers, and showing care to the alien and sojourner. In his younger years, he welcomed a homeless person into his house. Also, “over the years, my wife and I have welcomed into our home for a season individuals who were without the resources to shelter themselves.” But this may not be for everyone.  There is not a one-size-fits-all recipe for this, he said, but we can’t simply “farm it all out to one organization, and certainly not to the government.” He believes that if each person or family took a poor person or family into their heart(s)—and served them in all the ways that that entails—we could make a big difference.

There are several other practical ways to get involved. Dr. Meyer said, “One principle… is to go back to that old biblical idea of… making sure that at least 10 percent of our resources are in motion, beyond ourselves, beyond our comforts, to care for people in need.” Other options include adopting a child, sponsoring a child, or even building a relationship with someone who is in poverty (which might require attending a church in a poorer community).

Additionally, connect with the mission department of your local church; “find out what’s already being done in your community, or beyond that community, and ask how you can help.” Lastly, be sure to check out various organizations such as Bridge Communities (located in DuPage County, IL), Samaritan’s Purse, and the International Justice Mission.

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