When you hear the word “poverty”, what do you think of? Often, poverty is painted as ﬁnancial need. Pictures of hungry children or homeless people might come to mind. These are real pictures of poverty. However, poverty is so much more than a lack of money.
In their book, When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert discuss our tendency to “reduce human beings to being simply physical.”
The truth is, people need more than just money in order to lead a fulﬁlling life. In Corbett and Fikkert’s words, “humans are spiritual, social, psychological, and physical beings” (p. 57).
Our understanding of poverty impacts the way we respond. When we have a simplistic understanding of poverty, we respond in a simplistic way. If we think poverty is just a lack of money, then we will respond by simply giving money.
However, it is clear that just throwing money at an issue does not solve the problem.
This is because the problem of poverty is much deeper.
In the gospels, Jesus responds to human needs holistically. He doesn’t reduce a human to someone who has only one or two needs. He sees the complex person in their entirety, and responds to their needs in a holistic way. He heals the sick, eats with the outcast, forgives sins, and offers hope for both now and the future. Jesus recognises and cares for people’s physical, relational, emotional and spiritual needs.
Last week I got to visit some Alongsiders and Little Brothers and Sisters in a community in the Kandal province of Cambodia. I got to see holistic transformation taking place in the lives of the Little Brothers and Sisters. In this particular community, drugs and gambling are major issues. Many children do not live with their parents, and some do not go to school. Children and their families are living in poverty.
I met Alongsiders who have chosen children in their community to be their little brothers and sisters. They have chosen children who are experiencing poverty, do not live with their parents, are unable to go to school due to lack of money to support study and a need to earn money for the family. They chose children who struggle with gambling, who have broken relationships with their families, who don’t know Jesus. They have chosen children whose parents have HIV/AIDS, who have lost their parents, who are shy and are scared to explore and display their talents.
These are complex issues - the children in this community are not simply lacking money. They are facing physical, spiritual, relational and emotional issues. The answer to the problems they are facing is not just to give them money. Instead, it is to walk alongside them.
This is what the Alongsiders are doing and it is making a difference. As I listened to the Alongsiders and their Little Brothers and Sisters speak, I heard story after story of holistic transformation. Let me share some of these stories with you…
Stories of Physical Transformation
Alongsiders are mentoring and advising their Little Brothers and Sisters, helping them make wise decisions which affect them physically. One Alongsider shared that her little sister, although only 10 years old at the time, used to gamble. This is extremely dangerous and leads to further poverty. However, through the support and advice of her Alongsider, this Little Sister eventually stopped gambling.
A Little Brother also shared that his Alongsider helped him resist peer-pressure in relation to drug-abuse, and encouraged him to spend time with people who will be a positive inﬂuence instead. Alongsiders are preventing drug abuse and gambling, and are therefore transforming the physical and ﬁnancial lives of their Little Brothers and Sisters.
Stories of Spiritual Transformation
Children are understanding and experiencing God’s love, and they are becoming passionate followers of Jesus. Eighty percent of the Little Brothers and Sisters in this community who did not know God before they had an Alongsider, are now followers of Jesus. I heard story after story of Little Brothers and Sisters who came to know Jesus through their Alongsider. Not only do they now experience God’s love for themselves, but they are passionate followers of Jesus who desire to become Alongsiders when they are old enough, and help other children experience that love. As one 16-year-old Little Sister and aspiring- Alongsider explained to me, “I want to lead the children who don’t see the light, I want them to see the light like I do.”
Stories of Relational Transformation
Relationships are being restored. Little Brothers and Sisters shared that they used to disobey their guardians, that they had broken relationships with their family, that they used to get angry easily. They shared how, through having someone walk alongside them, they have changed and relationships have been restored. The Alongsiders are also noticing this in the lives of their little brothers and sisters, as are others! One mother told her son, “You are a good person because you have an Alongsider to advise you.”
Stories of Emotional Transformation
Alongsiders are helping Little Brothers and Sisters grow in conﬁdence. I had the pleasure of meeting Romdoul and Srey Neth. Romdoul is 19 years old and 4 years ago she chose Srey Neth to be her little sister as both her parents are sick. Srey Neth was quite shy four years ago, but Romdoul recognised that she was good at singing. Romdoul encouraged Srey Neth, helped her recognise her ability and instilled conﬁdence within her. Srey Neth is now a worship leader at church! In her words, she is “braver than before.”
Holistic transformation is happening in the Kandal province, and all around the world through the Alongsiders movement. Lets continue to look at the whole person, recognise all their needs, and walk alongside them, working towards holistic transformation.
[written by Sarita Hales, currently interning with Alongsiders]