Part of a series on the Sustainable Development Goals. Find out more.
  • By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day
  • By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions
  • Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable
  • By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance
  • By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters
  • Ensure significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources, including through enhanced development cooperation, in order to provide adequate and predictable means for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions
  • Create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions

A UNICEF video made its rounds on the internet, an experiment that was meant to expose people’s apathy and prejudice against the poor.1 In the first part of the video was a young girl with a cute, dressy coat and adorable hat, waiting by herself in a very busy public square. In just a few moments passers-by realised that she was alone and they were overcome with the need to help. In the next scene, the same young girl entered a restaurant and a couple of other public places and again onlookers felt compelled to help her find her guardians and care for her so that she would not become a victim of the evils of society.

The experiment took an interesting turn in the second half of the video. The same young girl was now dressed as a poor girl with torn clothing, dirty and again waiting in a public square. For the next hour, people simply passed by her as though she was invisible. The young girl then entered the same restaurant as before. Only this time she was met with uninviting glares and a customer called the restaurant staff to escort her out. The experiment had to be cut short because the young girl was distraught and her sorrow uncontrollable; even though she knew it was an experiment, the pain was still unbearable.

While viewers’ hearts melt with compassion, the temptation is to shake our heads at the insensitive people in the video. There is a nagging question: how many times do we walk by the poor without a second glance?

Does the question ‘what can I do?’ ever surface as we step past those who are in need? The misguided thought that the poor belong on the street - that they are used to or choose to be in poverty - can easily lead us to justify our lack of action or response. Too often, it is the poor who crumble under the weight of injustice and are pushed into the periphery. Here are some statistics:2

  • More than 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty and live on less than $1.25 a day.
  • About 75% of the world's poor populations live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for livelihood.
  • In developing countries, the poor spend 60-80% of their income on food. Americans, to use one example, spend less than 10%.

Christians can play a significant role in addressing and fighting the issue of extreme poverty because of the God who lives in us! Time and again, the Bible speaks of a Christian’s social responsibility in light of the Gospel. Jesus did not just address humanity’s spiritual need but also the material, physical and emotional needs. He is the same God who became a man and in his humanity, identified with the poor by becoming poor himself. Jesus said, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Luke 4:18-19). His heart was always tender and moved with compassion that led to action.

As followers of Christ, the expectation for us is clear! Christians are called to take up the cause of the poor because it reflects the heart of the God we worship and serve. We are invited to become co-labourers with Christ and become his eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet in this world.

What does the Bible teach?
  • Proverbs 31:8-9 reads: ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.’
  • In Jeremiah 22:3 we find the following: ‘This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.’
  • Micah 6:8 says: ‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ • 1 John 3:17 contains the question: ‘If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?’
What should we pray for?
  • Patience and understanding between those experiencing poverty and those who are not. May we be better able to imagine ourselves living the lives of those around us and then use these experiences to inform our words and actions.
  • That governments will do more for those living in poverty - poverties of food, finance and shelter. May they instigate and improve policies, encouraging accountability and addressing corruption. Pray that the world will see the poor as people and not as a problem or a project.
  • That those living in or close to poverty are able to gain the skills required to improve their situation. May people be willing to spend time and energy teaching these skills and may the necessary people - for example, potential employers - be able to see past current circumstances and offer relevant opportunities.
What can we do?
  • In parts of Africa and Asia, corps have fields where they grow food to give to people in need. Volunteers are always needed. Elsewhere, homeless shelters, food banks or pantries and employment assistance centres constantly require donations and volunteers.
  • Raise awareness of poverty. You could use social media, conversations, letter-writing, emails, telephoning and many other methods to increase understanding of poverty and its effects in everyday life. This enables people to spot it around them and do something about it.
  • Reducing poverty requires actions from everyone - including those living in poverty. Microfinance projects, entrepreneurship and skill-development are all ways in which this process can move forward.
  • Watch the video below with a small, youth or study group and ask them to reflect on it. How does it make them feel? How do you respond?

Tags: SDG1: No Poverty