Today, in the 21st century, there are still more than a billion people living on less than a dollar a day. Indeed, more than half of the total population of humanity are still living on less than 10 dollars a day. Even in the UK, around a third of children in the North are now living below the poverty line, with this number actually due to increase in the coming years.
For most of us reading this article, our position of relative privilege has not allowed us to see the world through the eyes of the poor. With little material wealth, the poor are almost always the most vulnerable group within any demographic. You would be forgiven for thinking that this would turn them away from God, citing His apparent lack of concern for their welfare. But you would be mistaken, as multiple surveys have found that the poor are likely to be more religious than even the richest in society.
The question is, why? Why would they turn to a God who has, at least from their perspective, seemingly betrayed them and ignored their destitution? Whilst there are all sorts of research and statistics from Majority World and Western missiologists that we could cite to answer this, one voice lies deafeningly silent on the matter - the poor themselves.
And therein lies the real question: why has the Church failed to ask those living below the poverty line why they believe in Jesus? Why do our congregations continue to be made up primarily of the middle classes?
Having had a glimpse of how God feels about human beings through my years of study, I've often wondered what the poor, the victims of human trafficking and abuse, and the refugees feel about God. The issue of poverty and a concern for the poor has long been a part of my personal spiritual journey. Yet, from being a young adult, I have been involved with ministries that focus almost exclusively on the eternal dimensions of life and completely ignore the realities of the poor.
Whilst much has been written about poverty and how to respond to their physical and social needs, what has been missing in both the literature on the spirituality of the poor and in missional practice is an understanding of how and why the poor choose to worship Jesus Christ. What do the poor themselves have to say as to what attracts them to Christ and the gospel?
Recognising this is critical to understanding what the gospel means to them, and to enabling Christians to design community development programmes that don't just tack on a standardised verbal gospel presentation as part of their intervention, but actually share the gospel in a way which is truly understood.
From my experience, the poor respond to the good news of Jesus Christ for reasons that are very different to those of Western evangelicals. Listening to the poor, especially those from non-Christian backgrounds, from our perspective can therefore open up a Pandora's box in terms of trying to understand how God works in the lives of people. There doesn't seem to be a standard template and process that God uses.
The ability of the poor to survive in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges is astounding, and I can only assume that their resilience is rooted in a worldview that is very different to our own, expressed through faith and spirituality. Listening to their experiences and the simplicity of their faith has woken me up to the overly comfortable parameters of my own religious traditions and practices and pushed me to seek the reality of who God really is, not who I first thought Him to be from my relative position of privilege.
As the numbers living in poverty continue to soar globally amid the cost of living crisis, the Church must go further when reaching out to the poor and ensure that we introduce them to Jesus in a way that they can relate to. If we don't, we will continue to struggle to attract the poor to our services and miss out on the diverse experiences, culture and perspectives that the poor can bring.
Rupen Das has been involved in missions and Christian international development for over forty years, partnering with the Navigators, World Vision, the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, and local NGOs, among others. He currently serves as President of the Canadian Bible Society and is a research professor at Tyndale University, Toronto, Canada. He writes on topics of global Christianity, missions, poverty, and ministries of compassion. His books are published by Langham Partnership. To read Rupen Das' book on the topic 'The God That The Poor Seeks' visit https://langhamliterature.org/the-god-that-the-poor-seek