Poverty is Complex

In my last post I mentioned that there were two things I want everyone to remember from Poverty 101. The first is that “It’s all about relationships.” The second is that “Poverty is Complex.”

Everyone who has lived in poverty, everyone who studies poverty, everyone who works with those in poverty understands that poverty is about a lot more than money and that there are no simple definitions. And my experience is that attempting to describe it is a little like a blind man trying to describe an elephant from the experience of touching the side of the animal. There will be so much that we miss in our description and in our understanding.

No matter what your source of news, it is likely that you will someday hear a pundit, regardless of their political persuasion, talking about poverty. And they will likely say something like this, “Poverty is caused by…” And they will complete that sentence by articulating only one cause. I always tell people that if they ever hear that, they can stop listening to everything that person has to say, because that “expert” doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

And a fully fleshed out understanding of the issue of poverty is so important. Because as the authors of When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert point out, our definition of poverty will determine how we attempt to address it. Or as they put it, the “Diagnosis Shapes the Prescription.”

If we are going to make of difference in the lives of those living in the cycle of generational poverty we have to humbly approach the subject. We have to study, we have to read, we have to dig deep. We have to seek God’s wisdom. And we have to listen to the voices of the poor, because it is from those children of the King that we will learn the most.

It’s All About Relationships

In the day and age we live in, everyone wants to get their information in small chunks that don’t take much time to digest. This is a particular challenge for me as someone whose job it is to teach about complex subjects like poverty. I lead a class called Poverty 101 that takes about sixteen hours to really do well. But I am often asked by churches and groups if I would come and teach the basics of Poverty 101 in an hour. Because I don’t want to miss opportunities to share the work of Shepherd I accept, but it is a difficult challenge for me.

But there are a couple of simple truths that can be boiled down to a sentence or two. During Poverty 101 I tell the class that if they learn nothing else then I want them to remember two things. The first of those two things is that “It’s All About Relationships”.

In any setting, among any people, ministry is about relationships. No significant growth, no significant learning, no significant ministry happens outside of a relationship. When I challenge people to think about the times in their lives that they have grown or learned great lessons, it always comes down to significant relationships, a parent, a mentor, a teacher, a friend.

Empowering families to develop the assets they need to break the cycle of poverty is a lot less about developing great programs than it is about walking through life together. It’s about creating community, community in which families feel supported, loved and valued. It’s about creating a community in which people discover their value, not in what they have but in what they can give. And it’s about helping them see themselves as children of the Creator, and loved beyond anything we could imagine.

Poverty 101

If you’ve been around Shepherd, you have probably heard about our Poverty 101 training. This unique training helps challenge stereotypes about poverty and ultimately gives you a better understanding of the poverty mindset. If we are going to break the cycle of poverty in the lives of our neighbors, then we need to make sure we understand as much as we can about poverty.

If you’ve been through our Poverty 101 training, you know how useful this information is, no matter where you live. So, in the months to come, our Poverty 101 concepts will be featured here on our Shepherd News blog. We wanted to bring these concepts to you, so you can better understand and help alleviate poverty in your context. These articles will be written by our Poverty 101 educator, Tim Streett.

Tim Streett has lived and worked in impoverished communities for 30 years in cities including Boston and Chicago. He spent 17 years as a resident of the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood in Indianapolis. He serves as the Assistant Director of Shepherd Community Center. His primary role at Shepherd is to provide continuing education to staff, volunteers and partner churches through Shepherd’s educational outreach. Tim utilizes his thirty years of experience combined with a formal education in sociology and theology to teach about issues of poverty, urban development, and urban ministry.

Tim is the former Executive Director of Jireh Sports, a mentoring program utilizing alternative sports, which grew out of a partnership with seven inner-city churches in the Martindale-Brightwood Community of Indianapolis. Jireh Sports merged with Shepherd in January of 2008. Jireh Sports was established in an old warehouse which sits on twenty acres of land. Shepherd Community successfully worked with the Exxon Mobil Corporation to remediate environmental contamination on the property. The land is now home to the Edna Martin Christian Center and a new school. Tim also founded The Ralston Trust, a charitable trust which seeks to acquire and redeem vacant and distressed property within inner-city Indianapolis.

Prior to taking the helm at Jireh Sports Tim served for seven years as the Minister of Urban Outreach for the East 91st Street Christian Church. In that capacity he was responsible for the development of partnerships and outreach ministries in the inner-city communities of Indianapolis. Tim also served for a time as the leader of contemporary services and preached most Sundays before 1000 members of 91st Street’s congregation.

Tim has a significant teaching ministry focusing on issues of racial reconciliation, forgiveness, poverty and urban ministry. As a fifteen year old Tim witnessed the murder of his father during a random robbery. As an adult he reached out to establish relationships with each of the men convicted of the murder. One of those relationships grew into a friendship as Tim helped the man establish a successful life upon release from prison.

In the fall of 2013 Tim and his family moved to a small town in Southern Indiana so that he could pursue further studies in Louisville and care for his ailing father-in-law. This move also was an opportunity to begin to experience the context of rural poverty

Tim has a BS from Purdue University, an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is currently a doctoral candidate at Bellarmine University. He is married to Stacy, who was the Media Specialist at The Oaks Academy and now serves the same role at Switzerland County School District in Vevay, IN. They have a twenty-year old son Gabriel, who is a student at Ball State University, and an eighteen-year old daughter Mary Elizabeth, who is currently having a gap-year before starting college.