Imago Dei and Implications for Poverty

 

The idea that all humans are “created equal” would have struck most peoples of the ancient world as ludicrous, since humans are obviously not equal in wealth, rank or natural abilities. Aristotle merely summarized conventional wisdom when he asserted that some are fitted to serve as slaves while others are born with the natural capacity and authority to rule. As sociologist and historian Rodney Stark notes, the institution of slavery was universal for most of human history.

The idea of human equality, however, received a foothold in Western thought from the Hebrew idea that every human is created in the image of God (Imago Dei) and so possesses inherent dignity and worth. This understanding was reinforced by the specifically Christian doctrine that God entered human history as a man, died for the sins of all humanity, and that in Christ “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free.”

Imago Dei Becoming a Reality in History

These ideas worked in the face of hatred, greed, and hypocrisy to gradually improve the rights of medieval European peasants, and to undergird the abolition movements of England, Europe, and the United States. The idea also can have an important role in helping the poor and oppressed of today’s world to achieve liberty and flourish.

When our poverty-fighting ideas are founded up the fact that all people are made in the image of God and are therefore, created equal, we realize that we must abandon paternalism and embrace partnership. We further realize that poverty does not exist due to people’s incapacity. Instead, our focus shifts to the fact that people are poor because they are excluded from circles of exchange, living without the rule of law, cannot get title to their property, and cannot access justice in the courts.

Stewards in the Image of God

The biblical account of humans made in the image of God also undergirds the idea of humans as stewards of the rest of creation. It’s been argued that the West is the first civilization in history to extend the rights of private property to a substantial percentage of its members, in part because of this idea that humans are made in the image of God and given stewardship responsibility by God.

This view of the human person suggests that such people are meant to have a stewardship responsibility over what has come into their possession by honest means, a responsibility that should be honored and encouraged by the state rather than violated. This view of the human person also emphasizes the creative capacity of humans, since they are understood to be made in the image of the Creator.

Implications for Poverty

Materialist anthropologies have tended to lapse into fixed-pie or zero-sum-game thinking when it comes to questions of wealth and poverty. In this view, people are reduced to mouths to feed with ever-decreasing amounts of resources. Alternatively, the Judeo-Christian understanding of humans sees people as sub-creators that have the ability to innovate and take resources and make them stretch further than could ever have been done in the past. When we rightly see all people as Imago Dei, the battle against poverty gets brighter.

 

Top 10 PovertyCure Videos for 2017

We wanted to make sure to highlight PovertyCure’s top 10 videos from 2016 so if you have not seen them yet, you can easily do so now! Check out the list below and watch them all today!

#1 – Poverty, Inc. Official Trailer

Drawing from over 200 interviews filmed in 20 countries, Poverty, Inc. unearths an uncomfortable side of charity we can no longer ignore. From TOMs Shoes to international adoptions, from solar panels to U.S. agricultural subsidies, “Poverty, Inc.” challenges each of us to ask the tough question: Could I be part of the problem?

#2 – Microfinance 101

Microfinance is most often equated with microcredit, but it’s more than that. In this video clip from the PovertyCure DVD Series, microfinance experts Ebow Graham, Muhammad Yunus, and Damian von Stauffenburg flesh out the bigger picture.

# 3 – PovertyCure – From Aid To Enterprise [Full Version]

PovertyCure is an international network of organizations and individuals seeking to ground our common battle against global poverty in a proper understanding of the human person and society, and to encourage solutions that foster opportunity and unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that already fills the developing world.

#4 – Charity that Hurts – Clips from PovertyCure Episode 1

A billion people around the world live in extreme poverty. For Christians, addressing this problem is a nonnegotiable; it is an essential element of our faith. But having a heart for the poor isn’t enough. In fact, sometimes, with the best of intentions, we actually do more harm than good. Unfortunately, in our filming and research, we found story after story of not-so-positive, unintended consequences of many charity and aid projects around the world. If we really care about our brothers and sisters in the developing world, we have learn from our mistakes. We must use our minds to unite our desire to help others with our knowledge of the social, economic, political, and spiritual foundations of human flourishing.

In this session, we will analyze the two major forms of international development assistance, private charity and government-to-government foreign aid, and hear what the indigienous leaders and recipients of such assistance have to say about it — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

#5 – PovertyCure – a Six Part DVD Series [Extended]

PovertyCure is thrilled to present our new, six-episode DVD series on human flourishing. Three years in the making, this high-energy, 152-minute documentary-style series challenges conventional thinking and reframes the poverty debate around the creative capacity of the human person, made in the image of God. Listen to the voices of entrepreneurs, economists, political and religious leaders, missionaries, NGO workers, and everyday people as host Michael Matheson Miller travels around the world to discover the foundations that allow human beings, families, and communities to thrive.

# 6 – Ghanaian Entrepreneur: Growth Hindered by Foreign Aid

In this clip from the PovertyCure DVD Series (see http://www.povertycure.org/dvd-series/), Ghanaian software entrepreneur Herman Chinery-Hesse describes how foreign aid can often inhibit growth for local businesses.

“When elephants fight, the grass suffers… political parties rely on foreign aid more than tax revenue so they are more interested in a smile on the World Bank country director’s face than the success of my business.” — Herman Chinery Hesse, Ghanaian Software Entrepreneur

#7 – Theodore Dalrymple on the Capacity of the Poor

“The first thing I would say to those who say that we must come and give, otherwise these people are incapable of improving their situation or getting out of their poverty, is to ask them why…Why are these people uniquely unable to get out of their poverty? Is there not evidence, in fact, that when given the opportunity, they do in fact, uh, get out of poverty themselves?” – Theodore Dalrymple, Writer and Psychiatrist (UK)

#8 – Does Globalism Destroy Culture?

“The globalization of business, of trade, of the exchange of goods and services is the best way to protect cultures, because it supports and encourages individual prosperity, the right of every person to be able to go out and have the freedom to fail, or the freedom to achieve, the freedom to be able to participate in a global economy.” — Declan Ganley

#9 – A Kenyan Professor’s Call to Action – Poverty, Inc.

Following the Colorado Premiere of Poverty, Inc. at Starz Denver Film Festival, Dr. M.D. Kinoti, PhD immediately approached Mark R. Weber about setting up a screening at Regis University. A native of Kenya with decades of experience in international development, Dr. Kinoti knows better than most the adverse effects of the poverty industrial complex and the need to re-think the way we address people in the developing world.

“As an African, having grown up in rural village in Kenya and poor, and having worked two decades in the development sector for big NGOs such as World Vision, I cannot stress enough the importance of the ideas presented in this film for our students and faculty.” – Dr. Kinoti

#10 – Robert Woodson on Effective Charity

Bob Woodson explains the problem with the ‘therapeutic model’ of many social service programs and charity organizations, which threaten the human dignity of the recipient by seeing them as helpless in their poverty. People feel most dignified and least degraded when they earn the things they have, not when they are given things. Hand-outs often reinforce the problem of dependency and the unequal provider/recipient or therapist/client relationship that is intrinsic to the therapeutic model of charity.

Watch more of our videos on our YouTube Channel!  Happy New Year!

Three Ways to ReThink Non-Profit Marketing | by Isaac Barnes

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In its short history, the modern nonprofit has shifted through a few marketing tactics. The 1980s disaster appeals used guilt-inducing shock imagery to raise funds for charity. Since the 1990s, nonprofit best practices trend toward more positive images and stories, showing happy people with at least some degree of agency. And in a more recent trend, some nonprofits communicate less about the needs of the people they serve, focusing more on stories and images of Western donors fundraising and doing things on behalf of others.

In my experience, rarely does a nonprofit’s actual marketing content—images, graphics, videos, stories, and appeal messaging—receive as much scrutiny as their programmatic work.

It’s a tough balancing act to show the oppression of poverty without exploiting those living in it or oversimplifying its complexity. Books like Walking with the Poor and When Helping Hurts have begun to challenge Christian nonprofits and churches to rethink how they understand poverty and relate to people living in material poverty. These same insights and spiritual frameworks should also shape the stories and images of nonprofit marketing. When nonprofit communications are naively positive, sensationally guilt-inducing, or exclusively reflective of Western supporters’ actions, they misrepresent people living in poverty and cheat supporters of the opportunity to mutually engage in poverty alleviation.

In my job as a writer at HOPE International, I’m still learning how to balance the need to ethically represent the families we serve and inspire and educate people—all in 50 words or less. From Instagram posts to printed reports, here are three ways I’ve changed how I communicate:

Name people and places in photos:

All too often, pictures of nonprofit beneficiaries are treated like stock photography, without a name or location to inform readers who they are or where they are. Even if a nonprofit has consent to use the person’s photo, to the reader, the person on the page is left nameless and, thus, they remain distant and unknowable. Naming someone is dignifying and, in a relational way, brings them closer, allowing your reader to feel mutual affinity and connection rather than distant pity.

Use direct quotes:

First, to get direct quotes, you must listen. The “be a voice for the voiceless” mantra has never sat well with me—everyone has a voice and will speak if listened to with respect. Prioritizing direct quotes in storytelling better represents those you’re writing about—whether supporters, partners, or people served—and elevates their voice.

Show people in action:

Pictures powerfully shape how we see our world, especially places we’ve never experienced. The style and content of nonprofit photography not only represents the people and places they serve, it also positions supporters’ responses to and understanding of poverty around the world. Portrait shots can be beautifully dignifying, but they lack the action and context that shows the initiative and hard work of so many people living in poverty. Active photography—showing people in their homes, with family, in the community, and at work—can help foster a deeper sense of mutual partnership between beneficiaries and supporters.

Better, more ethical and empowering nonprofit marketing doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intentionality, resources, and time to build the space and systems to listen to people and retell their stories with dignity. If nonprofits are dedicated to quality programs and work, then their marketing and communications should be held to similar standards.

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Isaac Barnes joined HOPE International’s writing team in 2013. Since then, he’s enjoyed telling the incredible stories of HOPE-network clients and creatively communicating about Christ-centered microenterprise development.

What I Missed by Trying to Play the Poverty Hero | by Sarah Ann Schultz

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At 20 years old, I made what seemed like a simple decision: I decided to take a semester off of college to live in Uganda for four months.  Brimming with evangelical zeal, I was ready to change the world. Armed with a backpack full of knee-length skirts and malaria meds, I told myself I was prepared and ready for the challenge whatever that would be.

Spiritual guns blazing, we came into the rural town where we were based eager to affect change. All my plucky self-assurance quickly deflated when I saw that poverty was far more complex than I had imagined from the air-conditioned safety of my American home.

Not surprisingly, I grew increasingly frustrated with the limited change we were seeing, frustrated that all of my prayers and relationship-building weren’t enough to change the community. My self-imposed burden of “changing the world” began to suffocate me as I saw that it wasn’t a challenge I could shoulder on my own. Four months later, I came back to the U.S. broken over the weight of what I had experienced.

Let me be clear: I do believe the world can change. In fact, I cling to the deep conviction that God has not given up on this world that He made—and neither should we. But in putting myself in the role of hero, I missed out on the dignity and worth of the very people I was trying to serve. I made assumptions about their needs and desires rather than pausing to listen.

On a recent trip to the Republic of Congo through my work with HOPE International, I entered into conversations with Congolese friends eager to listen. In setting aside what I thought people needed, I got to hear remarkable stories about how communities are changing from the inside—how Sophie, a HOPE client in Brazzaville, uses her knitting business to mentor young mothers and train them in a practical skill; how Moise continues to give of his time and resources to other farmers despite facing some hefty challenges of his own; how Gilbert started a music center as a conduit to teaching his community about worshiping God through music. What Ugandan passions, talents, and gifts did I miss out by assuming that my team had all the answers?

And more importantly, I’ve recognized that while God’s people can be agents of reconciliation on earth, we are not the saviors I once thought we could be. In thinking I could change the world, I missed out on seeing God’s redeeming power on this earth that He created.

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”-Revelations 21:5

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Sarah Ann Schultz has served as a writer with HOPE since 2014, telling the stories of HOPE clients in marketing and development communications. A North Carolina native, Sarah Ann currently lives in Lancaster, PA, and spends her time traveling, reading, hiking, and laughing at her own jokes.

How We Can Break Free of the Handout Mentality | by Andrew Vanderput

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Handouts can be a pretty contentious term. Hopefully my next statements will help ensure that I do not increase that contention. When you saw  “handout mentality” you might have thought I was referring to the material poor. Actually, I was referring to you. More on that later.

For the sake of this article, let’s define handouts as the provision of resources to people in material poverty without any expectation that the recipients will need to invest their own time or other assets in order to receive those same resources in the first place. Note: Relief or aid given to people immediately after a manmade or natural disaster would not fall under our definition of handouts.

We know that handouts as defined above can be ineffective and damaging. They can create dependency and destroy initiative in the recipients. Why develop your own talents and work to become independent when you know you will be provided for free of cost? Because of this, recipients will become chronically reliant upon their patrons and will never be able flourish themselves, let alone help their communities do the same.

There are a myriad of other reasons handouts are damaging that we could discuss, but I want to get back to you. While handouts can be destructive, it is the views that undergird handouts that are even more pernicious. To be more specific, it is how you see the people you want to help that causes the damage. This may sound tangential but it is not. It is crucial. How you view people will invariably dictate and shape your efforts to help them.

If you only and ever see people as incapable, helpless, unable to contribute, and even burdensome then your actions will naturally flow from that perspective and inform your poverty fighting efforts. You will not partner with the poor, you will patronize them. You will only see their lack, so you will give shortsightedly. This errant view of the material poor is the handout mentality.

Please do not automatically dismiss this point or see it as irrelevant to you. While you may think you do not see the material poor in such light or would never dream of doing so, subconsciously you may. When examined carefully, the causes you give to, and the way you have gone about addressing poverty will tell you a lot about how you see the poor. Given enough critical thought, you might realize you have a handout mentality.

How do we break free of this mentality? We must change our thinking so that the material poor are seen as they truly are: Created by God and fellow bearers of His image. As people full of potential and endowed with incredible, creative abilities. As savvy and entrepreneurial. As partners. As equals.

When you begin to view the poor like this, everything changes. You are no longer focused on lack, want, or deficit. You only see assets, potential, and opportunity. You see all of the enterprise and business opportunities you can support. You no longer see yourself or your institution as the answer. You realize they are the answer. You break free of your handout mentality.

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Andrew Vanderput is the Strategy and Engagement Manager at PovertyCure, an initiative of the Acton Institute. Andrew comes from a diverse background in public policy, non-profits focused on international poverty, marketing, and consulting. He has long held a passion for promoting entrepreneurial solutions to poverty. He lives with his wife and two children in Grand Rapids, MI.

Want to Help Haiti in Hurricane Matthew’s Aftermath? Look to PovertyCure Partners

Haiti Hurricane Matthew

The strongest storm to hit the Caribbean in a decade, Hurricane Matthew, has now moved north but left great devastation in its wake. The power of this storm’s destructive force was felt most in Haiti and news coverage at this point has largely focused the Haitian’s plight. This has led many to ask how can they serve or help the people in Haiti.

As a country that is too well acquainted with catastrophe, Haiti has received much foreign aid and help in the last many years. In times after great natural disasters, relief has been sorely needed. In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, relief will be needed again.

The problem is that NGOs and governments will likely never move beyond providing relief. Instead of supporting local entrepreneurs and businesses, these charitable actors’ ongoing efforts will very likely unintentionally harm the very people they are attempting to help.

So which organizations support local entrepreneurs and local businesses, the true hope of Haiti? PovertyCure has developed a global network of partners that adhere to the PovertyCure principles and therefore, are attempting to address poverty in such a way that we believe is the most effective and leads to human flourishing. Here is a list of many of our partner organizations that work in Haiti:

These partners, along with others, are doing the hard and slow work of building up local entrepreneurs and businesses in Haiti. Through their efforts the beautiful Haitian people increasingly see themselves as the heroes in their own story. As you consider which organizations to support in their efforts to serve in Hurricane Matthew’s aftermath, we humbly submit these PovertyCure partners as good options.

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About the Author:

Andrew Vanderput is the Strategy and Engagement Manager at PovertyCure, an initiative of the Acton Institute located in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Question I Hoped I’d Never Hear from Someone Living in Poverty | by Becky Svendsen

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One minute, I was alone … and the next, I was overrun. While I was answering emails on the last day of a trip to visit savings groups in India, teenage girls suddenly swarmed into my bedroom unannounced, covering giggles with their hands.

These girls—who lived at the orphanage next to my guesthouse—asked to see my clothes and touch my hair and page through my books. They called me “sister” and showed me how to wear the sari I bought that week, explaining that only married women wore saris. Whoops! They acted shy at first but were soon gently elbowing each other out of the way to have me photograph them by the window.

Eventually all the girls disappeared except one—Anaya.* She told me how her father abandoned her after her mother died. And how despite huge class barriers, she dreamed of being a nurse. As she scrolled through photos of HOPE International clients around the world on my laptop, I explained that I sometimes traveled to help others—mostly Americans—understand what poverty is like.

Her curiosity bubbled over. “So your job is to help the poor people? People like me?”

I nodded.

“But you are one of the money people, right?”

“…I guess you could say so.”

And that’s when she asked it:

“Sometimes I feel sad and ask God why I am one of the poor people. Do you know why?”

This same question has hung in the air, unanswered, for generations before her, but I’ve only ever heard it articulated by Westerners walking away from poverty like doctors walking out of a sick room. Talk about a heavy moment.

I didn’t know why, I told her. I added that I didn’t understand many things about God, but that I knew He was good and trustworthy and loved her and loved me the same amount. She smiled knowingly and agreed.

The dissonance was heartbreaking: Anaya and I were totally equal, but our lives couldn’t be more lop-sided. There’s no explaining why I wasn’t born into her life and she wasn’t born into mine.

Honestly, I don’t often let myself feel the confusing weight of poverty in my work with HOPE.  It’s exhausting, of course. And with more and more leading voices decrying knee-jerk, short-term responses to poverty—and rightfully so—more practitioners and donors are prioritizing an analytical approach.

But hearing Anaya’s question makes me think we might have lost something there.

Sure, if emotion is our only motivation, we’ll run out of steam halfway and be of no help. But God’s Word speaks of softening, not hardening, our hearts. What if we only need to learn to harness our feelings?

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Chip and Dan Heath portray our emotions as a mighty elephant and our powers of reason as its tiny but thoughtful human rider. When the elephant and rider are out of sync, disaster ensues. But when led well, the elephant becomes the powerhouse that overcomes inertia and barrels through challenges.

In economic development, emotions without reason can quickly take us off course—into things like dependency, cynicism, or megalomania. But without emotion, we might never find the momentum to get started at all.

I suspect there’s a reason, then, why empathy, compassion, and emotion are at the core of how Christ calls us to live: Love your neighbor as yourself. Anaya’s life is too precious to concentrate only on her most heartbreaking, immediate needs. But if we’re not willing to tap into our emotions as we go about the work of empowering men and women like her, we’ll never end up where we want to go.

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Becky Svendsen has served with HOPE International since 2008 and currently leads HOPE’s communications team. It’s her privilege to share about HOPE’s mission, operations, and incredible clients with churches, donors, foundations, and others. One of her greatest joys is getting out from behind her computer to interact with HOPE’s clients and field staff to see firsthand how God uses meaningful work to help families break free from poverty.

The Gift of Work | by Melanie Dale

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The other day I was exactly where I usually am, behind the wheel of my minivan, driving my kids wherever they needed to be. Sometimes we jam out to music, and the Hamilton soundtrack is our current favorite.

 

“I’m lookin’ for a mind at work, work

I’m lookin’ for a mind at work, work

I’m lookin’ for a mind at work, work

Whoa-oa! Whoa-oa! Whoa-oa! Whoa-oa!

WORK!”

 

And sometimes in my smelly minivan, on those beautiful occasions when everyone is getting along relatively well and the decibel level is manageable, I try to talk with them about important things.

So the other day I opened up a conversation with them about the privilege of work. We talked about the opportunity to work a good job and how it’s a gift. I shared how much I love my job, well, jobs, as author, speaker, mother, and advocate for Children’s HopeChest. They listened and talked about what they might want to be. Video game designer. Dog groomer. Extremely famous singer actress celebrity.

We talked about how right now their job is school, and the work that they do there will lead them to their future careers. I encouraged them to work hard, to achieve their dreams.

And then we moved to the people in this world who don’t have the opportunity to work, or receive dignity and fair wages, because of oppression and injustice. Men and women who want to provide for their families but can’t because of broken systems.

Last year with a small group of my neighbors, we learned more about the roots, problems, and hope for people living in poverty through the PovertyCure DVDs. While sipping coffee in front of my TV in the suburban U.S., we peeked into another world.

“This is the first time I’ve heard anyone talk about poverty like this.”

My neighbor spoke up as we processed the first PovertyCure session. After years of working with Children’s HopeChest, I was passionate about poverty alleviation and community transformation, but now I was sitting in a room with my friends talking about it.

As my group worked through the entire 6-DVD set, we kept coming back to what can we do. We were learning so much about economics and injustice and lack of access to the global market, but we were not the heads of a government. We didn’t run our own global organization. We couldn’t create jobs. How could a group of friends support entrepreneurs in the developing world?

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Find out more about Melanie Dale’s latest book by clicking on the image above!

As we talked through what we were learning, we kept coming back to our buying power. We make purchases every day. We couldn’t approve small business loans or meet with government officials, but we are part of the global marketplace. We buy. As Americans, we buy a lot. So how could we adjust our buying to benefit entrepreneurs around the world?

A few years ago I started an endeavor to buy all my Christmas gifts from companies making a difference in the world. I called it the “Slave-Free Christmas Challenge,” because after I found out about people living in slavery making the goods we purchase I couldn’t bear celebrating Jesus’ birth with items made that way.

I had a blast, hunting for gifts and necessities that would support artisans trying to keep their kids in school and feed their families. I found ornaments from Ornaments4Orphans and jewelry from Trades of Hope and soap from B.A.R.E. soaps and so many other wonderful companies empowering local business owners around the world.

I’m just one regular person, but what if a bunch of regular persons used their buying power to give entrepreneurs around the world the gift of work for Christmas? Mitscoots socks packaged by the homeless here in America and Sole Rebels shoes made from upcycled materials in Ethiopia and the most gorgeous array of purses from Purse and Clutch. Every item with a soul and a story behind it. Work matters.

I’ve continued these conversations about work with my kids and friends. When I purchase or give something, I try to ask myself, “Am I creating a job or taking one away?”

I want to look for ways to support and encourage men and women around the world to find meaningful work that supports their families and provides stability and hope for their lives. I want everyone, not just my kids, to get to achieve their dreams.

Work is a gift, one I never want to take for granted…although my kids might disagree as they do their math homework. “Whoa-oa Whoa-oa WORK!”

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Melanie Dale is a minivan mama and total weirdo who stinks at small talk. Her laugh is a combination honk-snort, and it’s so bad that people have moved away from her in the movie theater. She adores sci-fi and superheroes and is terrified of Pinterest. Author of Women Are Scary: The Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding Mom Friends and It’s Not Fair: Learning to Love the Life You Didn’t Choose, she’s also a contributor for Coffee+Crumbs and an advocate for Children’s HopeChest. Her writing has been featured on Parenting.com, Scary Mommy, Working Mother Magazine, Deadspin’s Adequate Man, Ann Voskamp’s A Holy Experience, and Today’s Christian Woman, and she’s a panelist for MomsEveryday TV. Living in the Atlanta area, she enjoys recording her podcast, Lighten Up with Melanie Dale, and blogging at Unexpected.org

The Myth of Expertise | by Claire Stewart

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As my eyes skim headlines on relief efforts for the thousands of refugees spreading across Europe or development organizations fighting poverty in sub-Saharan Africa or news of violence in the Middle East, my heart breaks for the suffering that plagues our world.

And yet, I rarely speak up about issues of social justice. Too often I fall prey to what I call the “myth of expertise.” I look around and see people who know so much, and I think, “What could I possibly contribute?” So I wait for a big blue genie to arrive and magically prepare me to join the conversation.

Let me tell you a secret: This genie doesn’t exist. And you don’t have to be an expert to join the conversation and engage the issues you care about.

Here are two reasons why you should dispel the myth of expertise and join the conversation before you feel you’re equipped to contribute:

  1. Change is accomplished by those who show up, not only by those who know the most. Possessing expert knowledge of an issue, while important, is only part of the grand scheme of working toward change. The talents God has given you have equipped you to make a contribution. Joining the conversation is the first step in the process of learning where your skills and talents meet the world’s needs.
  2. You’ll learn more from within the conversation than you will as a spectator. You don’t need expertise to successfully participate. Listen. Ask good questions. The first step in engaging with issues you care about is to learn. Join book clubs, travel to different cultures, or attend events. From within the conversation you’ll be better able to see how your own talents can contribute to meaningful change.

Three years ago, I began hearing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from friends who had experienced firsthand the injustices of the decades-old war. I knew that I cared about the pain experienced daily by Palestinians and Israelis, but didn’t know how I could contribute.

But I did, however, show up. There was a panel on campus, and I asked to help in any way that I could—manning the snack table or making posters. Then I was asked to use my organization skills to coordinate a trip to Bethlehem. A few months later, I found myself on a plane to Tel Aviv, headed to a conference on an issue about which I still felt I knew nothing.

Even so, I discovered that I didn’t need to be an expert to join the conversation. By showing up and contributing in ways that I knew how, I learned far more than I ever thought possible.

Don’t fall for the myth of expertise, my friends. You don’t need to be an expert to contribute. If you feel drawn to an issue, show up with a desire to learn. I think you’ll find that there is a place for you and your talents within the conversation.

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Claire Stewart serves at HOPE International, where she works with the president and executive team. She is a member of Millennial Voices for Peace, a movement promoting reconciliation and a holistic understanding of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Claire has a degree in philosophy from Wheaton College (IL).

Stewardship – What is in our Hands? | by Jonathan A. Moody

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“Every single person on the face on the planet is created in God’s image.  Everybody has capacity, talent, and ability…  Everybody has stewardship responsibility.”
– Rudy Carrasco, Effective Stewardship

I love this quote from Rudy Carrasco.  It reminds me God has gifted us with his image.  And innate in that privilege is a responsibility to bear it well – to use it the same way He does.  It’s true that each of us is in a different season of life.  Each has enjoyed, or endured, different experiences.  Each has been entrusted with a unique combination of time, talent and treasure.  But, essentially, we are all stewards – overseers of a great gift.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines stewardship as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”  However, we often underestimate the value of the life and influence God entrusts to our care.  Ultimately, the gift-giver will want to know what we did with His generous present.  With that in mind I ask, do we see everything in our hands as a seeds of hope and potential?  If so, are we planting those seeds in expectation of a fruitful life?

Not that it is always easy.  For instance, my current season of life includes stewarding my two young children: David, 4, and Ruby, who isn’t quite 2 years old.  They’re undoubtedly amazing – easily my favorite people.  However, they are still normal kids.  And, of course, in many ways I’m a normal parent.  So, amid the shrillest screams and most piercing cries I need to remind myself of the unfathomable promise that lays in their young lives.  I have to see beyond their temporary normalcy, past my own even, and remember that I’m a steward called to take care of their childhood in a manner that bears fruit for their adulthood.

A stewardship approach to life requires a shift in perspective.  A steward focuses on what he or she has rather than what they don’t have.  As a dad I could focus on not having two grown children who have great jobs and bring me chocolates on the weekend.  Ironically, if I did so, the two children I actual have would have a smaller chance of growing into those future adults.  If I want to see growth, I have to focus on David and Ruby exactly where they are, as they are.

This concept is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian worldview. Exodus 4 gives us a clear example of the concept.  Moses was on the lam, hiding in the desert while the children of Israel toiled as slaves to Pharaoh.  Though God could have acted on his own in the situation, He chose to partner with his steward, Moses.  And God started the process of Isreal’s rescue with a simple question: “Then the Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ (Exodus 4:2, NIV)”

This is the basic concept of “asset based development,” a philosophy that encourages us to when we approach development with a focus on the assets rather than the needs of a community.  The essence of the PovertyCure message is that when an individual is free to steward what he or she has in their hands, they will see it grow.  As our statement of principles puts it,

We are stewards of creation with freedom and responsibility.  The earth is a gift to be developed responsibly.  The stewardship approach to creation encourages holistic and sustainable development.  Stewardship theology cautions us against crass and hedonistic exploitation of the natural realm.  Likewise, it warns us away from viewing nature as divine, or the earth as a sanctuary to be left undeveloped.

Pastor Erissa Mutabazi, the Rwanda Country Director for Hope International, makes this point succinctly in a video devotional entitled “What’s in Your Hands?”.  In it, Pastor Mutabazi states, “We can’t help but ask, what will happen if, instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we consider what God has already given us… our talents, our dreams, our motivations, and offer them back to him as an act of worship.”

God has called us to be stewards of his creation and to not underestimate what we have in our hands.   In an effort to apply that truth more deliberately, I recently went through the exercise of writing a life plan based off the book, Living Forward, by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy.  I cant’ recommend it highly enough.

Another excellent resource is Effective StewardshipIn this five-session video study, hosted by Dave Stotts, you will learn how to think critically and biblically about the areas of responsibility that God has entrusted to you.

Again, as Pastor Mutabazi says, “God has given each one of us gifts and he invites us to use them, no matter how small they may seem.  We serve a God who fed thousands on five loaves and two fish, … imagine what might happen if a movement of Christ followers use the gifts God has given to bring healing into a broken world.”

So, what do you have in your hands that you will accept the challenge to be a better steward of?  Let us know in the comments to be entered to win this week’s prize!

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Jonathan A. Moody is the Managing Director of PovertyCure, an Acton Institute Initiative.