Peace Corps volunteer Josie Kornegay was in the West African nation of Sierra Leone teaching a class on microbiology for ten nursing students. As related in Darrow Miller and Stan Guthrie’s book, “Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Cultures,” “[a]fter the final exam, one student raised her hand and said, ‘Miss, I know that you taught us about polio, but do you want to know how people really get it?’
Josie’s heart sank. “How?” she asked the student, who replied, “It’s the witches!” . . . They are invisible. They fly around at night and bite people’s backs!” Josie related, “At that moment, with a heaviness of heart, I realized that as far as the Sierra Leonean students were concerned, I didn’t know what I was talking about. Their grandmothers had told them that witches were real and microorganisms were what white people believed in.”
Talk about a contrast—between a Western, science-oriented approach to health and an animistic one! Of course, that’s not a matter of intelligence, but it’s worldview. Development pros who fight poverty around the world often say that bridging the worldview gap is one of the keys to success. However, there’s another worldview gap that we have to recognize if we’re going to help people escape poverty and its related ills—it’s our own blind spots about how we give aid.
That’s why I’m really excited to tell you about “Poverty, Inc.” a phenomenal new documentary produced by our friends at the Acton Institute. This film will open eyes not only to why so many expensive and well-intentioned approaches to relief fail to actually help people but also how people actually are helped out of poverty.
In fact “Poverty, Inc” is so good, it was just awarded the Atlas Network’s prestigious 2015 Templeton Freedom Award, named for the late financier and philanthropist, John Templeton. You may recall that our friend Chuck Colson received the 1993 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, so this is a significant achievement for the Acton Institute.
And not a moment too soon! Increasing numbers of observers have seen the results of decades of top-down aid from governments and nongovernmental organizations … and have found it tragically lacking.
“Mounting evidence … is causing people of all political stripes to question whether our actions are really helping the poor,” said Acton Institute’s Executive Director Kris Mauren. “Poverty, Inc. is fast gaining traction, especially among our friends from developing countries who have long been calling out for more inclusive market systems and stronger institutions of justice such as property rights, rule of law, and freedom.”
In short, Poverty, Inc. is calling for a worldview shift among those who seek to help the poor.
According to Acton, the current mindset on poverty relief took root during the colonization era, when local cultures were dismissed as “primitive” and their inhabitants as “natives” who needed to be told what to do by “advanced” Westerners. Other cultures may have problematic worldviews—as we do—but their people aren’t dumb. But those old prejudices have stuck, like gum on the bottom of our shoes. “Poverty, Inc.,” Acton says, “challenges viewers to question fundamental assumptions and see people in the developing world not in terms of their lack, but in terms of their dignity and creative potential.”
In other words, to see them as God does—made in His image and part of their own solution. And Poverty, Inc. has been well received by audiences on both the left and the right of the political aisle, which just goes to prove that the Christian worldview works! It’s true, and offers a perspective on the world that makes sense.
— by John Stonestreet
Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.