I see it everyday. Someone somewhere is calling for assistance for poor children. ‘POOR’ being the operative word.

I have little patience for this. Okay, I have no patience for this.

As a coach, as a prayer minister, as one trained to listen and trained to notice the words that we use I know that when we use such language we solidify and add to the curse of poverty over people.

Let me say that again. To describe a child as a poor child is to amplify their poverty. It is as though a loud-speaker has been hooked up to the universe and their poorness is now established and solidified far and wide.

They may have been living in a poor state but now, now they themselves personally are poor. Their identity has become one of poverty; we’ve cast them in concrete.

This makes me angry because there is not a person on this earth at any time in any place that should have ‘poor’ as an identifier of who they are.

People may be living in poverty but this does not mean they are poor?

Let me explain. I’ve been in many poverty ridden areas and what I have seen is ingenuity, creative solutions, intelligence, rich relationships, graciousness, generosity, and faith.

But, of course, it barely helps to raise funds if we were to say, “Help us with these incredibly ingenious and resourceful orphans.”

But, quite frankly, these are the very ones I would most love to help!

But, we are never shown these ones. We only ever get to help the poor ones. Never once imagining they have been one and the same … until they were branded poor.

Language matters. The words we say make a difference. The declarations about who we are and who others are, are a big deal.

If you are raising orphans and want them to surpass their impoverished circumstances then it is vital that you change your language.

Are they in difficult circumstances? Absolutely.

Are they poor (in terms of identity)? Absolutely not.

It is a further degradation to them, a violation of who God has created them to be, and a exploitation of them to use them in a way that plays on the pity of others.

Your thinking is off.

I once asked someone in the majority world how they would appeal to those in the west for funds. Specifically I asked, “If you were to obtain X number of dollars today, what would you do with it?”

The answer was this, “We would build half of a big building and then once we ran out of money we would know that someone would come (from the west) and give us money for the completion of the building.” 

I was more than a little astounded. This is NOT how people in the west think at all! On the contrary.

In the west we do not look for those unable to do the work. A half built building would indicate to us that the person did not have any number of critical strengths required for management. A half built anything indicates:

  • there was not enough forethought
  • character strengths to say ‘no’ are missing
  • character strengths to hold back, are missing
  • character strengths to be realistic with ability, are missing

Any leader I know would not support or help someone who has obvious character flaws and inabilities to manage resources. A half built building would not motivate me to help, it would be a sign to me to not help.

It is much the same with your language about the children you are helping. If I hear you say ‘poor children’ I know a few things:

  1. you do not believe in the ability of the children to surpass their circumstances
  2. you may be exploiting them for your own means
  3. you believe me weak enough that you can prey on my pity
  4. you think that all solutions and answers are from the west (this is grossly mistaken thinking)
  5. you believe money will solve all your and their problems

Personally, I have no desire to be alongside anyone who believes these things. Because I know that at the end of the day that what those children believe about themselves will make or break them in the end.

If you are teaching children to believe themselves victims any money we send will ultimately be misspent.

Money may solve today’s problems but victim thinking will undermine those children for the rest of their lives.

Change your language.

I’m not saying ‘don’t help the children.’  I’m saying, change your language around this. Use language that edifies and builds up people.

Do not present the need of a person as their identity.

Establish, with your words, the honour and creativity and resourcefulness that is present in every single person – God has created them this way!

Do not rob them of their dignity. Do not use their weakness to make money. Do not prey on pity, for pity is all you will get – and pity is no answer at all.

Every single person is made in the image of God. Each is created special, unique, with gifts for this world in the beauty of who they are. Affirm this, support this, let us see this side of the children you serve.

We want to support those who are lifting children up, establishing them in strengths according to their maker, widening their thinking so that one day they can change their communities and their nations.

Stop keeping them poor by your words; to do so is in bad taste and it leaves a bitterness in our mouths and ultimately backfires.

People from the west are incredibly generous and kind-hearted. But you must stop taking advantage of this and of us with your pity stories.

We are nearing the end of our patience with this. Seriously. As wealthy countries we are tired of playing pity parties with resources.

Give us something strong to back.

Give us a picture of the giftedness of the children you serve.

Be a leader who can see hope, who can envision a way out, who imagines a beautiful future for your children because of who they are and what they bring to this world.

Inspire us with their strength, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and curiosity. Astonish us with their wisdom and what they teach you each day – this, we could get behind.

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