What is our ultimate goal in addressing poverty? What is good aid? What is bad aid? How does the Gospel change the way the poor look at their lives? On March 20th and 26th, over 260 Azusa Pacific University students gathered to answer these questions. Through faculty facilitated discussions, students were asked to critically reflect upon viewings of the documentary series “PovertyCure,” produced by Michael M. Miller of the Acton Institute. With three goals in mind—inform, engage, and act—AEI’s Executive Council created a rich atmosphere for discussion, which explored poverty aid from a free enterprise perspective underpinned by a Christian worldview.
The first goal was to inform. By dividing up the “PovertyCure” event into two sessions— one focusing on the role of free market, and one focusing on the role of the church— we were able to attract a broad spectrum of audiences. With political science, economics, theology, psychology, and journalism majors in our midst, different academic backgrounds laid the foundations for an engaging discussion. Better yet, we had an even mix of audiences both with and without mission trip experience in poverty-stricken countries. In other words, the message reached those with background knowledge and those with clean slates. Nevertheless, everyone was shocked by what “PovertyCure” had to offer.
Controversy breeds discussion. To critically engage the audience, everyone divided into groups of four to five to reflect upon what they had heard through open ended questions. With four faculty members roving around the room to fuel the discussion, students were challenged with ideas that defied the norm. One shocked short-term mission trip leader walked up to me, and said firmly, “my team needs to hear this message.”
For some students, the event raised just as many questions as it did answers. One freshman economics major was excited to hear some of his suspicions about the distinction between good and bad aid articulated, but wondered further about how his faith related to what he was seeing. “This is not the Prosperity Gospel, but some of the entrepreneurs in the DVD seemed to think that God would certainly bless their efforts. What does the Bible say about how much is our responsibility, and how much is God’s?” In the conversation that followed, a group of three students began to explore this question deeper, looking to find the intersection between God’s blessing and human efforts.
To close the loop, the final goal was to inspire action. It is the transformative step where the abstract turns into the concrete. Without offering answers, we asked the students what they would do to bring about long-run prosperity to other nations. One business student who was born and raised in the Philippines confirmed the waste in poverty aid efforts. Invigorated by the discussion, he hopes to start a microfinance website after graduation to facilitate microenterprise loans between developed, and developing countries: “a few dollars go a long way in these countries. These people need the opportunity to create wealth for themselves.
By transforming ideas into action, Azusa Pacific University’s “PovertyCure” events shed light on innovative approaches to solve global poverty. Each conversation involved a variety of students from different majors and years of study. This diverse group of students, along with eager faculty members supplementing their discussions, left the room in an excited buzz of conversation that furthered an understanding of free enterprise solutions to global poverty.