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Do You Have a Schizophrenic Heart? For the Sake of the Poor, Maybe You Should!

by E. Calvin Beisner
March 6, 2013

What really works to lift whole societies out of poverty? Anyone who thinks it’s largely charitable activity needs to learn some history. As Henry Hazlitt showed in The Conquest of Poverty, charity’s never played a leading or even a major role.

Not that charity has no role—it’s crucial in responding quickly to catastrophe, large scale and small, for the short term.

But businesses—businesses formed to create profit for their owners by serving consumers—have been the only way to lift large numbers of people out of poverty for the long term.

It’s not rocket science. It’s the lesson writ large that we find writ small in the old proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Teach him to fish so efficiently that he can feed himself and have plenty left over to sell at a profit, and you feed him and lots of others for his lifetime. Teach him to employ and teach others to fish, and you may feed millions for many lifetimes.

The recent World magazine article “Patient for profits” reports on a growing movement among Christians with what some people might consider schizophrenic hearts: hearts eager both to make a profit and to help the poor. We like that.

Part of the Cornwall Alliance’s mission is “to magnify … the kindness of God’s mercy in lifting the needy out of poverty.” Our work in that regard is twofold:
  • Through education and advocacy, we support government policies at home and abroad that create and protect the conditions—liberty, private property rights, the rule of law, and limited, accountable government—under which entrepreneurs can thrive by serving people’s needs, while opposing policies, including many ill-founded environmental regulations, that hamper such institutions.
  • Through our sister ministry, Churches & Villages Together (CVT), we partner with in-country pastors and entrepreneurs in poor villages of East Africa for a combination of evangelism, pastoral training, church planting, micro-enterprise startup and development, and basic environmental protection and restoration.
A year ago I returned from Uganda, where I witnessed some of CVT’s cooperation with local pastors and Christian leaders who were doing these things in remote villages.

Edward Kasaija, a veteran entrepreneur, pastor, and leader in the Presbyterian Church in Uganda and the Tentmaker Project, is a model. His integrated agricultural enterprise raising chickens for meat and eggs, cows and goats for meat and milk, pigs, and vegetables, fruits, and grains not only feeds his multi-generation family but also provides products he markets and—the fruits, grains, and vegetables—feeds his livestock.

Pastor Edward’s brilliantly designed enterprise is entirely cycle-through, with rainwater from roofs stored in cisterns for the livestock or sluiced to wash manure into fields for fertilizer. Nothing goes to waste. Even the chicken litter not only fertilizes fields but also feeds cattle and pigs.

The profitable business enables Pastor Edward, as everyone calls him, to pastor First Presbyterian Church of Kampala without burdening it financially.

Ugandan Pastor Edward Kasaija (right) and one of his veteran veteran colleagues, Pastor Rashid Luswa (beside him), explain the agricultural entrepreneur tent-making pastor model to representatives of Cornwall Alliance sister ministry Churches & Villages Together.

But best of all, it also enables him to train others to start and grow their own integrated agricultural enterprises, support themselves while planting and pastoring churches in poor villages, and train yet more to do the same. The self-replicating cycle reflects Paul’s instruction to Timothy, “what you have heard from me … entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). It also models how profit-seeking entrepreneurs can lead a whole society out of poverty.

That’s one of many lessons in my book Prosperity and Poverty: The Compassionate Use of Resources in a World of Scarcity, an introduction to economics from the perspective of the Biblical worldview.

The book has sixteen chapters in five parts:
  • Stewardship and the Spiritual Life
  • Stewardship and Justice
  • Stewardship and Economic Principles
  • Stewardship and Government
  • Stewardship and Poverty
Part 5 examines the nature and causes of poverty and tells how churches, individuals, and families can help the poor—not only through charity but also by conducting, modeling, and teaching entrepreneurship and business by which the poor can lift themselves out of poverty.

For the month of March, the Cornwall Alliance will give a copy of Prosperity and Poverty to anyone who donates any amount and requests it. (Our suggested donation is $28.00, in keeping with Genesis 1:28, where God gives mankind the dominion mandate.) For those donating $250.00 or more, we’ll send a copy inscribed and autographed by the author. If you make your tax-deductible donation online, be sure to write in the comment section, “Please send me Dr. Beisner’s Prosperity and Poverty.” If you donate by mail, please send your check to Cornwall Alliance, 9302-C Old Keene Mill Rd., Burke, VA 22015, and enclose a note requesting the book.

With your help, we can continue to educate the church and decision makers around the world not only about Biblical Earth stewardship but also about how to conquer poverty.