The cycle of poverty
Peter Pretorius at a Mission Feeding outreach.
"Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all." Proverbs 22:2
After many years of helping the poor around the world, I am often asked why there seems to always be people who cannot take care of themselves. To the casual observer, the fact that we are still feeding children in places like Mozambique might look like years of failure instead of the success that it actually is.
Of course, the entire force of the U.S. Government has yet to eradicate poverty in the most prosperous country in the world, despite President Johnson’s declaration of a "war on poverty" in 1964.
In comparison, poverty in third-world countries, referred to as "abject poverty," is a condition far deadlier than being poor in America.
For some real insight into the cycle of poverty, specifically in Africa, the poorest continent in the world, I turn to my friend and partner in Mission Feeding, South African Peter Pretorius.
He points out that extreme weather over the last 15 years, vacillating between severe drought and unbelievable flood, have repeatedly wrecked the land, devastating crops and preventing the people from establishing reliable food sources.
But the primary reason he cites is the fact that "Africa’s people were never developed."
Generally, when Europeans came to Africa, they partitioned and colonized the continent to exploit natural resources.
They brought their own people to perform skilled labor and develop infrastructure to further their ventures.
They built roads and established mines, farms and cities.
But as they developed the land, they did not effectively educate the people or develop high-level skills.
Instead, the Africans supplied manual labor.
Many natives went from hunting and rudimentary farming to providing an unskilled workforce.
They worked, but they did not learn how to manage an economy.
Universities for Africans were non-existent.
They benefited from the wealth, but lacked the knowledge and experience to prosper independently and maintain an advanced culture.
When the colonial powers withdrew from Africa, often in a matter of weeks, the people were not equipped to continue development.
In many cases, the leaders of the newly freed countries were the rebel fighters.
Consequently, they did what they knew best and kept fighting.
Tribal mentality fueled civil wars.
Corruption was rampant.
Dictators seized control.
Global politics provided funds to warlords who ignored the needs of their people.
Wars depleted the men who should have been teaching practical skills to their children, who then grew up without education and lacked the most basic skills to provide for themselves.
I would also argue that a lack of spiritual enlightenment worsened the situation.
Instead of "doing unto others as you would have them do unto you," there has been selfishness and abuse.
There is often no regard for human life.
In a Darwinian world, the strong subjugate the weak.
Backwards religion continues to justify genocide in areas like Darfur.
This is why I seek to spread the Gospel while providing food, water and medicine.
Of course, we also educate children and train adults in hygiene and practical survival skills.
Remarkably, the Mozambican government has credited our programs with advancing peace and a level of prosperity in their country, as well as helping to bring warring factions together.
Furthermore, we have seen remarkable progress in other parts of Africa, including the war-torn nation of Rwanda, where our orphanage set an example of intertribal harmony that impacted the country’s leaders.
After years of success, Peter believes that his land is turning the corner.
He points out that people are beginning to understand the necessity of good governance, democracy and integrity.
He is facilitating education and skill development than has never before taken place.
He anxiously looks forward to the day when Africa will feed itself and stand on its own feet.
The people are capable, but they do need help.
Obstacles continue to exist.
Weather conditions are harsh.
A global increase in food prices presents a major problem.
Corrupt governments, like Robert Mugabe’s oppressive dictatorship in Zimbabwe, inhibit progress.
But on the whole, Africa’s people are better off today than in previous generations.
"We have a long road to go to see the cycle of poverty broken," Peter wrote this week, "but I do believe that this will become a reality."
I also believe it can become a reality, but it will take continued support from wealthier nations.
We must continue to give food, water, shelter and clothing to "the least of these," as Jesus referred to them, in order for us to prosper spiritually as much as we have prospered materially.
When we demonstrate this richness in spirit, we can break the cycle of poverty.