A number of years ago, I stayed at an orphanage in Mozambique for four months while we waited for our son Pedro’s adoption process to be completed. One night a staff member asked if I wanted to come help with church for the sex trade workers. “Sure,” I said.
A few hours later, I hopped in the back of a truck for the ride into town. We came to the city dump where we had weekly service . . . but drove past it. We drove downtown where we sometimes met with the street kids . . . but kept going.
After a while we came to a part of town I had never been in. Elegant buildings passed by the windows. We turned into a nice street just behind them and stopped.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“That’s Embassy Row,” they replied. “This is where the prostitutes live.”
“That is what exploitation looks like,” I thought. “They are figuratively and literally raping the country.”
I hadn’t read any Latin American theorists yet, but those four months began changing my understanding of poverty. I saw that some extremely hard working, intelligent people are poor simply because they were born in a poor country; and many poor countries face huge barriers as they try to escape poverty.
Years later I understood that some of those barriers are there because the rich and powerful countries make the rules of the world economy. Poor countries don’t get invited to G8 summits. Their needs are not a priority when trade tariffs are set or when multi-nationals decide on strategy.
It’s not necessarily malicious. It’s just that first world politicians only get reelected if they keep their economies strong. CEOs who don’t keep increasing profits are quickly replaced.
But I believe that God cares deeply about economic justice. In the Old Testament He establishes gleaning so the landless can harvest food, and he sets the year of Jubilee so the indebted can get a fresh start and the enslaved be set free (Leviticus 19:9-10, 25:39-41). The prophet Isaiah says, “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.” (Isaiah 5:8)
In the New Testament, Jesus says he specifically came to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18).
Advocating for the poor is part of becoming more like Jesus.