After nearly two decades of service to our neighbors in need, I’ve learned an important lesson: People struggling in poverty need hope. And few things offer more hope than a job. My time spent in ministry to the homeless and poor has led me to support the work requirement reforms to welfare programs in the House farm bill as consistent with both Christian principles and practical lessons.
As Christians, we must never lose sight of our responsibility to go beyond alleviating the immediate suffering of those in poverty, but also to help people help themselves to rise out of poverty — for good. We must endeavor to empower those in need so they can feed and clothe themselves and their families in the future.
As Christians, we are called to charity, but we’re never told in the Bible that charity shouldn’t include work. In Deuteronomy, God instructed His people to leave the extra wheat in the fields and grapes in the vineyard for the poor wanderer, the orphan and the widow, but He didn’t say to glean or gather them for the poor. For anyone who wanted help, work was required.
And today, if we really care, work is still required. This means if a person is able, we must help him to find and keep a job. Unfortunately, the majority of able-bodied men and women on food stamps across America are not working even during a time of record-low unemployment. Now is the time for Christians to support the elimination of federal policies that have trapped so many people in hopeless poverty, dependent on the impersonal and inhumane “charity” of government.
My ministry has reinforced to me the power and hope of work — because I’ve seen it firsthand. The transformational power of work overcomes addiction and dependency, helping people discover self-sufficiency and a life of meaning instead.
The Prophet Isaiah calls on us not just to feed people but to “pour yourself out for the hungry and to satisfy the afflicted.” When we invest ourselves like this to really help people out of poverty, Isaiah goes on to promise we’ll “be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”
In our ministry, we believe that every person has a reason to hope that his poverty will end. But there is no meaningful path toward that goal if it does not include that most fundamental of anti-poverty programs: a job. People who come to us experience work and learn there is reason to hope.
That hope is lacking for far too many people on welfare today, and the House farm bill’s changes to the food stamp program would empower missions like mine to address it.
Every person is a noble creation who deserves the opportunity to succeed. We are failing in our Christian duty to love our neighbors as ourselves if we fail to provide all people, of whatever background, the real hope of a better tomorrow that comes through a job. Smart policy that prioritizes work for able-bodied adults helps ensure that we uphold that duty.
James Whitford is the executive director of Watered Gardens Gospel Rescue Mission in Joplin, Missouri.