Poverty—The Situation Today
VICENTE * can often be seen pulling a heavily loaded cart through the streets of São Paulo, Brazil. He gathers cardboard, scrap metal, and plastic. When it begins to get dark, he places a layer of cardboard under his cart and lies down to sleep. He seems oblivious to the noise of cars and buses on the busy street where he spends the night. He once had a job, a home, and a family—but he lost them all. Now he ekes out a meager living on the street.
Unfortunately, millions of people worldwide, like Vicente, live in abject poverty. In developing nations, many are forced to live on the street or in shantytowns. Beggars—the lame, the blind, women nursing their babies—are a common sight. At traffic lights, children run between the stopped cars, trying to sell candies in hopes of getting a few coins.
It is difficult to justify such poverty. The British magazine The Economist commented: “The human race has never been richer, or better armed with the medical knowledge, technological prowess and intellectual firepower needed to beat poverty.” Many have certainly benefited from this know-how. The streets of the big cities in a number of developing countries are packed with gleaming new cars. Shopping malls are full of the latest gadgets, and there is no lack of people to buy them. Two shopping centers in Brazil ran a special promotion. They stayed open overnight from December 23 to 24, 2004. One of the centers hired samba dancers to entertain prospective buyers. The event attracted nearly 500,000 shoppers!
Still, vast numbers of people do not benefit from the wealth that some enjoy. The stark contrast between the affluent and the impoverished has led many to conclude that there is an urgent need to combat poverty. The Brazilian magazine Veja stated: “This year  the battle against poverty should be the principal subject on the global agenda.” Veja also reported on the proposal of a new Marshall Plan intended to help the poorest countries, especially in Africa. * However, while such proposals give an impression of progress, the same magazine added: “There are also abundant reasons for questioning the results. If the majority of countries are reluctant to contribute, it is because the funds rarely reach the people for whom they are intended.” Unfortunately, because of corruption and bureaucratic red tape, a large part of the funds provided by governments, international agencies, and individuals never reaches the people who really need it.
Jesus knew that poverty would be an ongoing problem. He said: “You always have the poor with you.” (Matthew 26:11) Does this mean that poverty will always be part of the world scene? Can nothing be done to improve the situation? What can Christians do to help the poor?
^ par. 2 Name has been changed.
^ par. 5 The Marshall Plan was a U.S.–sponsored program designed to aid the economic recovery of Europe after the second world war.