Empowering Families for Self-Reliance
Dynamic Steward: Do we, as believers, have a responsibility toward the poor and needy?
Ellen G. White: Men and women of God, persons of discernment and wisdom, should be appointed to look after the poor and needy, the household of faith first.
Those who have talents and capabilities must use these gifts to bless their fellow men, laboring to place them upon a footing where they can help themselves. It is thus that the education gained at our schools should be put to the very best use.
DS: What could be other causes of poverty besides life’s “misfortune?”
EGW: There is a class of poor brethren who are not free from temptation. They are poor managers, they have not wise judgment, they wish to obtain means without waiting the slow process of persevering toil. Some are in such haste to better their condition that they engage in various enterprises without consulting men of good judgment and experience.
DS: Many are impressed to work for the least of these, do you have a word of caution to offer?
EGW: We may err in making gifts to the poor which are not a blessing to them, leading them to feel that they need not exert themselves and practice economy, for others will not permit them to suffer. We should not give countenance to indolence or encourage habits of self-gratification by affording means for indulgence.
You may give to the poor, and injure them, because you teach them to be dependent.
DS: Your previous responses may sound insensitive. What would, therefore, be an appropriate approach when ministering to the poor?
EGW: Instead of encouraging the poor to think that they can have their eating and drinking provided free or nearly so, we should place them where they can help themselves. We should endeavor to provide them with work, and if necessary teach them how to work. Let the members of poor households be taught how to cook, how to make and mend their own clothing, how to care properly for the home. Let boys and girls be thoroughly taught some useful trade or occupation. We are to educate the poor to become self-reliant. This will be true help, for it will not only make them self-sustaining but will enable them to help others.
True beneficence means more than mere gifts. It means a genuine interest in the welfare of others. We should seek to understand the needs of the poor and distressed, and to give them the help that will benefit them most. To give thought and time and personal effort costs far more than merely to give money. But it is the truest charity.
DS: What is the origin of the concept of self-reliance or self-sustaining?
EGW: If men would give more heed to the teaching of God’s Word, they would find a solution of these problems that perplex them. Much might be learned from the Old Testament in regard to the labor question and the relief of the poor. In God’s plan for Israel every family had a home on the land, with sufficient ground for tilling. Thus were provided both the means and the incentive for a useful, industrious, and self-supporting life. And no devising of men has ever improved upon that plan. To the world’s departure from it is owing, to a large degree, the poverty and wretchedness that exist today.
DS: Can you expand on how concretely this was happening in ancient Israel?
In Israel industrial training was regarded as a duty. Every father was required to teach his sons some useful trade. The greatest men in Israel were trained to industrial pursuits. A knowledge of the duties pertaining to housewifery was considered essential for every woman. And skill in these duties was regarded as an honor to women of the highest station.
Various industries were taught in the schools of the prophets, and many of the students sustained themselves by manual labor.
DS: How relevant would this model be for today?
EGW: The plan of life that God gave to Israel was intended as an object lesson for all mankind. If these principles were carried out today, what a different place this world would be!
DS: Impressive! Concretely, what could solve the rampant poverty and other miseries happening in our overcrowded cities?
EGW: If the poor now crowded into the cities could find homes upon the land, they might not only earn a livelihood but find health and happiness now unknown to them. Hard work, simple fare, close economy, often hardship and privation, would be their lot. But what a blessing would be theirs in leaving the city, with its enticements to evil, its turmoil and crime, misery and foulness, for the country’s quiet and peace and purity.
DS: Does our responsibility extend to those living in rural areas?
EGW: The need for such help and instruction is not confined to the cities. Even in the country, with all its possibilities for a better life, multitudes of the poor are in great need. Whole communities are devoid of education in industrial and sanitary lines. . . . These people must be educated from the very foundation.
DS: Can a special group of Christians assist in this work toward the poor?
EGW: Christian farmers can do real missionary work in helping the poor to find homes on the land and in teaching them how to till the soil and make it productive. Teach them how to use the implements of agriculture, how to cultivate various crops, how to plant and care for orchards.
Many who till the soil fail to secure adequate returns because of their neglect. Their orchards are not properly cared for, the crops are not put in at the right time, and a mere surface work is done in cultivating the soil. Their ill success they charge to the unproductiveness of the land.
DS: Besides farming, could other lines of ministry be pursued to alleviate poverty?
EGW: Attention should be given to the establishment of various industries so that poor families can find employment. Carpenters, blacksmiths, and indeed everyone who understands some line of useful labor should feel a responsibility to teach and help the ignorant and the unemployed.
In ministry to the poor there is a wide field of service for women as well as for men. The efficient cook, the housekeeper, the seamstress, the nurse—the help of all is needed.
DS: Do you mean our missionary responsibility as believers goes beyond sharing the gospel?
EGW: Missionary families are needed to settle in the waste places. Let farmers, financiers, builders, and those who are skilled in various arts and crafts go to neglected fields to improve the land, to establish industries, to prepare humble homes for themselves, and to help their neighbors.
Physical effort and moral power are to be united in our endeavors to regenerate and reform.
DS: How do we prepare ourselves for this whole-being approach to ministry?
EGW: We are to seek to gain knowledge in both temporal and spiritual lines, that we may communicate it to others. We are to seek to live out the gospel in all its bearings, that its temporal and spiritual blessings may be felt all around us.