Breaking the Brokenness of the Cycle of Poverty: Part One


by Heather Bock

On Sunday, I was sitting in my church community group, and we were talking about the state of schools in our city. We were bemoaning the same problem that goes on all over the United States: schools with major discipline problems end up with fewer good teachers and lower test scores; children who graduate from these high schools can’t get into good colleges; students who graduate from lower-end colleges can’t obtain the best jobs.

A lot stems from families not involved with their kids, but a lot of these parents, many of whom came out of the same system, are working hard in low-end jobs and don’t always have the energy or time to devote to helping their kids. It’s all part of the poverty cycle, and the problem is so deep (when you throw in racism, physical abuse, mental health, and substance abuse to name a few other factors), it makes me just cry out, “This world is a MESS!” More Christians should be helping somehow in this huge mess (as some definitely are), but it feels hopeless and overwhelming.

I’ve heard this problem many times before, but for some reason, maybe because I’ve been growing closer to my lower-income students from Mexico (I posted about their generosity here), and maybe because I’ve learned more about the racism in my city (see my post about that here), my heart was broken thinking about this deep problem with all its broken people.

I was devastated to think about us sitting in the church talking about this problem, shaking our heads like we’ve done before, and going on with our lives the same as usual, never helping. I begged God before the main service, “Stir Your church, Lord, to do something about it! Can You restore this mess? You bring restoration, God–I know that well. Where is the restoration there?”

Afterwards, my husband and I went to the main service, sitting in a place we rarely sit: the side front. You see, the left side and the right side of our church’s seats face each other in the front, while the middle seats just face the stage. Therefore, the whole right side of our self-restrained church could see my face when I silently, but completely, lost it.

My pastor was describing heaven, how it would be a place with no more pain, no more sadness, and no more tears. He talked about how racism would be gone. He may have even said that poverty would be no more. I guess this should all have been a comfort to me, and to some extent it was, but I just kept thinking, “Do we have to wait until then, God? Your kingdom is now!”

I told my husband about it on the way home, and he said, “Maybe you should go back to college and get a degree in TESOL so you can start teaching ESL to the poor who need English to get better jobs to provide for their families.” Very funny. Yes, I do have a Masters in TESOL, and I am doing just that–teaching adult ESL at night. As God stirs me, I am also trying to do my little part to fight any knowing or unknowing racism directed against the Hispanics I teach. God has given me a lot more than that to accomplish each week, so I know I can’t add much more to help this problem.

Even though I was doing my little part, I was still praying and asking God to send more workers into this field: more good teachers brave enough to follow Jesus’ example and take a job where they might even have their life threatened, more strong father figures willing to take young fatherless men under their guidance to mentor them, and more loving families willing to invite a foster child into their safe homes. It’s not easy, and it’s not for everyone (I can’t do any of these right now–especially be a father figure). However, I hoped God would call more of those who could fit these and other roles, and that more people would listen and follow.

God does bring restoration and renovation, but He oftentimes uses people: teachers, mentors, prophets, pastors, leaders, and so many more to help do it. The poor are precious to Him. Think of Proverbs 14:31: “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker,
But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him” or Proverbs 29:7: “The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, The wicked does not understand such concern.” In Isaiah 58:7, God asks what kind of fast He desires from His people, demanding, “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”

I still questioned God, asking Him when He would send more of these people to care for those He obviously values. He answered me on Monday, but I’m going to have to leave that for next Wednesday. I hope you’ll come back next Wednesday to hear what I believe He responded to me.

Will you encourage me with stories? How have you or someone you know done a little part in helping the huge cycle of poverty, especially in our own country?


0 thoughts on “Breaking the Brokenness of the Cycle of Poverty: Part One

  1. Thank you for sharing your concerns. I agree, the people of God should be doing all they can to help the poor, especially children. I’m very interested in what God said to you in reply to your prayers.

    I once read about schools that were so poor the children didn’t have crayons etc. I tried to find a school that I could send school supplies to, but couldn’t find one.

    1. That’s really sad about the crayons! I have a huge bag of crayons sitting in a cabinet, and no one is using them. I wish I had someone to give them to!

  2. I am fairly new to my church here in North Carolina. I have been praying ever since I came for the church to be more of a outage church rather than in reach church. My pastor announced a couple weeks ago that they’re planning to start same thing. I was so happy to hear it. I told him I’ve been praying and asked me to keep praying. I have a lot of stories about the cycle of poverty from my work with the Boys and Girls Clubs. We had some families that were proud that the fourth-generation children were getting support from Christian children’s fund. I just couldn’t believe it.

    1. I’m so glad to hear God answering your prayers for your church. This does encourage me to keep praying, too. I’m also glad to hear of another believer wanting to make a difference in this area.

      Your second story saddens me!

  3. I pray that we as a body of believers will be moved to love with humility and grace. I have read so many stories of those who are poor are much more lavish in their generosity. I pray we can remember this life is short and we need Jesus more then the next new item. It’s so hard Heather and I break down about it too. I look forward to what God has spoken to you and will commit to praying more about it myself.

    1. I’m glad you’ll be praying with me! You’re so right about a lot of poor people being more generous than the rich–that’s been my experience, too

  4. I worked in a high poverty school & lived in the area for 8 years as a teacher and volunteer for Americorps. It wasn’t much, but it opened my eyes to a lot and I loved being a part of that community.

  5. Heather – I have to disagree (just a little) with one of your statements. “schools with major discipline problems end up with fewer good teachers and lower test scores; children who graduate from these high schools can’t get into good colleges; students who graduate from lower-end colleges can’t obtain the best jobs.” As an educator, I hear this a lot and it makes me sad b/c it lessens the value of the affordable education. I grew up poor. I went to a Jr. college and transferred to my university. It wasn’t an Ivy league school but I graduated w/o student loans and I was the first person EVER on BOTH sides of my family to attend college. My husband grew up as an inner-city student. As the white student, he was the minority in the minority college program. We met in college and he also graduated w/o debt and the first in his family as well. As a high school student, he helped his mom get her GED. Yes, your GPA and college pedigree has an influence on some jobs but they are so few. A degree in basket weaving still gets your foot in the door.

    How can we detour the cycle? Mentoring, befriending, showing them the world beyond their cycle and hopelessness. I went to college because someone outside of my family showed me a life I much preferred than the life I was living – and they helped me get into college. My family couldn’t because they didn’t know anything about getting into college. College may not be for everyone – show them trades, show them job/industry requirements. Help them understand social requirements – haircuts, hygiene, clothing, handshakes, resumes – and anything else that will knock them out of the running before they even get started. So many in a poverty situation are just unaware.

    Just my two cents. I’m sure you see some of your students feeling defeated as adults. As a public school teacher, I see the kids who are already beginning to tell themselves they can’t do much in life b/c their family is poor. Those are the kids I tell my story too and show them how college and life can be done if they are willing to adjust their thinking and work.

    As always – I love your articles. They never fail to challenge me and make me think deeper. God Bless.

    1. Lauren, I am very grateful for your well thought out reply, and your words bring me more hope! I’m still sad that it’s very hard for people in poverty to rise to a high level because of the college situation I described, thereby making it harder for them to take on influential positions of leadership in our country. However, I can see that through community college (which I believe is free in Tennessee for those with high enough grades in high school) and then a four year college, it is possible to get a well-paying job, which would take that person out of poverty. You’re also right about the trade–mechanics can make a very decent living.

      I love the other specific ways you gave to help the poor find ways to get out of their situation.

      I really appreciate your two cents! Thank you for writing!

  6. Heather, you asked for examples of involvement- my contribution involves connection with Christian Women’s Job Corp which is so dimensional because it not only helps equip women to financially provide for their families, but also seeks to develop godly character which is paramount for successful living. There are so many clear mandates from Scripture which we cannot ignore – one of those nonnegotiable directives is to help the poor and needy. There are plenty of places to serve, I believe.

    1. You’re right about there being plenty of places to serve! I’m thankful for what you and so many others do at Christian Women’s Job Core. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Looking forward to hearing what God is showing you about this! Thanks for bringing our attention to this issue.

  8. My favorite local charities help impoverished with practical goods, and shares the gospel when invited. A large, full-time food pantry helps families in need and our church supplies elementary students with Jet packs (food for on the weekends, when they don’t have access to school lunches). Our congregation is invited to pray over the school annually before the school year begins. As someone who grew up in poverty, I’m often reminded that I’m blessed to be a blessing.

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