Phantom Needs: Projecting Poverty Where It Doesn’t Exist
Mincaye doesn’t care about your cars and credit cards.
Steve Saint, author of End of the Spear and missionary to a tribe that killed his father, has some marvelous insights on the West’s tendency to project its “standards, values and perception of need onto others,” particularly when it comes to material needs (HT). When we do so, Saint argues, we often impose the opposite: poverty.
Unfortunately, this tendency has been evidenced no more energetically than by Western Christians.
From Saint’s own experience working with the Waodani people, the material needs are far less impending than the typical Westerner assumes. Indeed, the hustle-and-bustle of such outsiders is often deemed distasteful by the very people the West is attempting to “rescue” through material “fulfillment.”
As Saint explains:
When people visit the Waodani, they look around and think, “Wow, these people have nothing!” People from the outside think the Waodani are poor because they don’t have three-bedroom ramblers with wall-to-wall carpeting, double garages so full of stuff the cars never fit and, I guess, because they never take vacations to exotic places like Disney World.
Mincaye, on the other hand, sees the way we “Outsiders” live here in “The foreigner’s place” and makes comments like; “Why, never sitting, do the foreigners run around and around in their car things speaking to each other on their talking things but never hunting or fishing or telling stories to each other?” After traveling and speaking with me in the U.S., Canada and Europe, Mincaye is always greatly relieved to get back to his thatched roof hut, with the open fire wafting smoke in his face, eating whatever happens to be in the cooking pot.
As I have been arguing quite aggressively (here, here, and here), we mustn’t ground our views of mission or vocation or work or needs or productivity or value through our debased, earthly perspective (Romans 1, anyone?). By doing so, we will only dwell in our individual pride and arrogance, whether we think we are “doing good” or not.
By arbitrarily and impulsively acting for the sake of acting (not a good idea), we actually reject the true source of life. There is a reason that the Bible says that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” for without actually denying ourselves and submitting to him, we are nothing but fools shooting (or shouting) in the dark.
As Saint explains:
From my life experiences with the Waodani—and other people groups in Africa, Asia and South America who live simply and materially contentedly—I have learned that it is unreasonable to evaluate their “lack” based on our distorted and exaggerated perception of need. When we try to meet phantom needs of people who live at a lower material standard than we have learned to consider “minimal,” we not only fall into a trap that keeps us from seeing their real needs but we also tempt them into a snare that can raise their perception of need beyond what their economy can support.
When we project poverty on people where it doesn’t exist, we also overlook the actual poverty with which they struggle. Solomon said it well, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase so do those who consume them” (Ecc 5:10–11).
After this, Saint gets a bit more specific, focusing more intently on the notion of handouts vs. transformation. This strikes at the core problem of Jim Wallis & Friends, who routinely promote materialistic tweaking over bottom-up “missionalism” (for lack of a word with less baggage).
After outlining the ill effects that something as seemingly beneficial as an orphanage might have (increased child abandonment), Saint sums up the problem as follows:
Giving handouts creates more problems than it solves. It is like casting out demons with long leases. Break the lease or they will come back and bring more roommates (Lk 11:24–26). Where the Church is being established among people that perceive themselves as powerless, there is a great need for deep discipleship, wrestling with the roots of poverty at the community level rather than concentrating on the individual.
Financial help that does not develop sustainable, local, financial self-sufficiency is much more likely to create poverty than it is to meet real needs. Until we realize that we can’t overcome poverty with handouts, we will never be much help in completing Christ’s Great Commission.
Then, in what might otherwise be a striking continuation of Andrew Byers’ recent piece on radical discipleship, Saint concludes by noting our real role as Christians:
As followers of Christ we must fight poverty through discipleship rather than covering it with spiritual frosting. Either we do God’s will God’s way or we aren’t doing His will at all. Discipleship means teaching others what we have learned so they can teach others to care for their community’s physical, economic, emotional and spiritual needs on a sustainable basis! (2 Tim 2:2, Mt 28:19–20)
For Byers, it’s “spirtualized escapism.” For Saint, it’s “spiritual frosting.” But whatever you call it, it’s spiritually depraved. For a love that has no concern for doing God’s will — regardless of its earthly “pro-poverty” successes — is really no love at all.
From Remnant Culture.Com at: http://remnantculture.com/?p=3661