One of the four denominational “Foci” is “Ministry with the Poor.” For the past two days I attended a “Poverty Summit” in Harrisburg that was sponsored by the “United Methodist Advocacy PA” organization (formerly “UM Witness”). This group is a voice for justice issues that come before the state legislature in Harrisburg. The three United Methodist Conferences in the state of PA all support this effort. The information shared at this forum was practical and timely. These are difficult economic times for everyone and those who are poor are hit even harder and the suffering is enormous. In the United States our poverty levels are considered wealthy when compared to our sisters and brothers in developing countries.
Speaker after speaker stressed the same themes:
1) The existence of poverty is a spiritual issue. People of faith are called by God to respond to the human needs of others. It takes faith to sacrifice ones means for the poor and only when we trust God to take care of us when we “give ourselves away” are we able to give as we should.
2) Personal contact with people who live in poverty is vitally important. These are real people, not just numbers. It is easy to ignore a number, to stereotype people in poverty or to even judge people as deserving of their circumstances. When you take the time to get to know people and learn their stories and share their life it is a blessing for everyone. Likewise when we advocate for the needs of the poor we need to personally know state officials and leaders who make decisions about the distribution of wealth so as to have a greater influence on their votes.
3) Networking is the key to success in eliminating poverty. We need to work with other churches, civic groups, schools, community organizations, and individuals to accomplish the task. Each group has resources that the other needs.
Here are some websites that can help you and your church as you address the needs of people who live in poverty in your area:
http://www.pachurchesadvocacy.org (PA Council of Churches has an excellent training program)
http://www.MovetheMountain.org (Information about the “Circles” initiative that empowers people who live in poverty and pairs them with community advocates)
http://www.ahaProcess.com (Resources to equip educators)
http://www.thecaap.org (can show you how to coordinate a “Poverty Simulation” event in your community …this is a teaching tool)
http://www.umadvocacy.org (The United Methodist site that keeps PA people aware of legislative concerns and is also a clearing house for information on poverty)