Working Out My View of Poverty - Boot Camp 101


When I pulled open the white-painted wood doors of Redemption Church at 8:25 am, I had no idea how greatly my views and beliefs would be questioned and changed. 

I had been invited to join members of the Redemption Church community of Vancouver, along with others in the Food for the Hungry (FH) community, at this “Boot Camp”. Having never been to a boot camp before, other than the type that involves lots of sweating and physical exhaustion, I was in for a complete surprise. This one was called “Ending Poverty Together Boot Camp”—a title which may elicit a different sort of exhaustion. 

My attendance was spurred by my upcoming practicum with FH Canada. I wanted to have a full understanding of who they are as an organization. Little did I realize the day would encompass much more than I expected. 

Up until this point, I always thought I knew what poverty was. I soon learned otherwise.

The boot camp began and we did a short case study that revealed the importance of perspective. What we think someone needs might be very different than what they actually need. We all come from different situations – different countries, different backgrounds – where we’ve developed different views and expectations. This is where it all begins. Understanding that people are not the problem, but the solution. 

We were asked to write down our personal definition of poverty. Mine was not having enough food, shelter, or money to be safe, clean, warm at night, and fed. When I drive through the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver along Hastings Street, I see a lack of all these things. If only they had more money to be safe at night, and stay warm, they wouldn’t be in poverty, I would think. Right? Wrong.

Wrong because my definition—my understanding of poverty—is only the tip of the iceberg; only a very small fraction of the worldwide poverty epidemic. 

As I subtly shifted in my hard metal chair, I glanced around at the room at the 20-something people, and thought, I wonder what their definitions are… 

We moved on to read quotes from those living in extreme material poverty. I underlined key words and phrases that stood out. “We are cripples,” “powerlessness,” “depressed,” “we will always be poor.” These were only a fraction of the distressing thoughts I read. All the underlined words were negative. They were shame-filled, and hopeless. My understanding of poverty truly began to shift. 

Eric, one of the mediators, gave us about five minutes to change our definition. He asked something like, “Has your view of poverty shifted, at all? If so, what is your understanding now?”

I changed mine drastically. Poverty is much more about emotions and a state of mind than I ever would have guessed. Poverty is being lonely, tired, hungry, depressed, in a place of weakness. Poverty is messy, not simple. Each person experiencing poverty might define it differently. 

As I was slowly beginning to learn, poverty is complex. Poverty as a whole, takes time, effort and a multitude of people to even begin to solve. It seemed to be an issue that was almost unsolvable, or at least I thought. But when Eric began to explain Food for the Hungry’s mission, it started to seem plausible. 

FH’s vision is to end poverty one community at a time. This is done through many steps, the first being reconciliation. FH describes four main relationships common to all people that need to be reconciled: people with people, people with creation, people with God, and people with self. If we alter our definition of poverty based on humanity’s need for reconciliation, and define it as “broken relationships”, everything changes. Now, we are all in poverty. We all have broken relationships. We are all in need of reconciliation. 

We are all in this together. 

God made us relational beings. Our broken relationships, whether with God, self, others, or creation can be mended. FH’s model of mutual transformation is collaborative and relational. As John Flowers and Karen Vannoy put it in Not Just a One Night Stand, “Mutual transformation happens when we realize that the poor have as much to give us as we have to give them.”

Poverty is multidimensional. We talked as a large group about the most severe kinds in our own country: relational poverty, addiction, loneliness, mental illness, voicelessness, to name a few. Our understanding of poverty must be holistic. We can’t just call someone poor because they don’t have enough money to be financially self-sustaining. We must evaluate all the factors that create the emotional and mental aspects as well. 

We then addressed the common pitfalls of resolving poverty. Are we addressing the root cause of poverty or focusing simply on behaviour change? Are we defining their needs for them rather than listening to their reasoning? What is our motivation for helping? Sometimes our reasons are more selfish than self-sacrificing. 

Another problem is that we may misunderstand what is needed. We may think that the relief required is urgent and temporary. Yes, emergency aid is important, but it’s only the beginning of the solution. Rehabilitation begins as soon as the suffering stops. 

Some organizations might stop here. They see that people are in need, so they respond with relief and that’s it. But as Christians, we believe that reconciliation is the goal. We help those in need by coming alongside them and helping them move back into right relationships. This takes time and patience. FH stays connected with the community for ten years. Yes, they apply immediate relief, but they also help empower and enable the people who live there. FH strives to help the communities so that they can be fully independent and successful on their own. 

This struck me. I’ve always disliked the “solution” of swooping into a negative drastic situation, like poverty stricken places or natural disasters, and using our money and resources to help, and then leaving right away. How does this help those people in the long run? It doesn’t. Just because we’ve “saved the day” doesn’t mean we’ve solved their problem. I loved the idea of sticking with the community, watching them grow and become capable on their own. 

We took a quick ten minute coffee break. It gave me time to stretch my legs and relax my mind a bit. Most people stood around and talked, sipping on their coffees; but I took this as a chance to have quiet reflection. 

We sat back down at our tables of four or five people. Together and individually, we reflected on these steps, asking ourselves questions like “Are we applying the appropriate response in our own situations?” or, “what are the best ways to reconcile these broken relationships?” 

The key to this whole process of understanding poverty is knowing that everyone, including myself, is in poverty. 

Yes, people are suffering. Each day, people struggle with physical and emotional poverty, but they are not alone and they are not powerless. When we illuminate each person’s capabilities by building relationships and envisioning a new future, all who are suffering can be empowered. 

The Ending Poverty Together Boot Camp was more than a day of training to me. It was an opportunity to become self-aware about the misguided approach I previously had to ending poverty. It had never occurred to me that poverty was about more than a lack of money and shelter. It had never occurred to me that poverty was emotional and mental struggles as well as physical struggles. It had never occurred to me that I too was in poverty. And it had never occurred to me that there is a hopeful solution. 

Delaney is finishing her final semester at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC. By the end of April, she will have a BA in Media and Communication. She is an enthusiastic writer and public speaker, and loves social media marketing. She hopes to use her skills as an asset to help the greater good of the world. 




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Food for the Hungry: Working Out My View of Poverty - Boot Camp 101
Working Out My View of Poverty - Boot Camp 101
Food for the Hungry
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