Whoever you are, and wherever you live, disconnection from others can affect your wellbeing. Kuki Rokhum has the perspective of one who regularly travels to some of the world’s poorest and wealthiest places, encouraging Christians to respond to injustice locally and internationally. She sees caring for one another as true neighbours as key to overcoming the poverty experienced by both the poor and the rich. Here, she shares some of her thoughts on poverty as broken relationships.
There is a relational poverty that people in the West experience, I think because they so violently want to protect their space. In grieving, Western people seem to want space. In India, after a death, the whole community grieves with you and people talk about the person who has died. This is natural therapy. It is helpful, and it is biblical. Jesus said: “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep”. This is connecting, when you share what others are experiencing.
Relational poverty is cocooning ourselves from others.
When Jesus gave us the new commandment to love God and love our neighbour, he didn’t say “love others”, he specified “neighbour”. I think it’s because it makes it relational. We know our neighbours and have relationship with them. In rural places in India, neighbours are close. Any birth or death, or a water problem, your neighbourhood becomes your family. Jesus wants us to be in this type of relationship with everyone, even those we don’t know and those we otherwise don’t relate to. If we make the nameless entities who we only occasionally see into our neighbours, we love them.
To love your neighbour is to build relationship with people.
When Jesus showed us how to do communion, it was part of a meal they had together. The disciples sat together. Sharing a meal builds good relationships. In the Anglican communion service, there is a time for confession and a moment of peace with one another before the wine and bread. This is fellowship, and good relationships must be formed in order to eat together. When Jesus says: “do this in remembrance of me”, he is reminding us of the relationships we need in order to share. This is bringing the kingdom plan of reconciliation.
Communion is a meal of reconciliation with God that flows onto reconciliation with one another.
We fear, because we do not know — because we do not have relationships. I’ll tell you a story. I grew up in Delhi, and growing up I was scared of the Hijras (a community of transgender people who are traditionally ostracised from mainstream society). We would try to get away from them. Some time ago, a visitor from the UK encouraged me to visit them. We went together, to their neighbourhood and met the Hijra in their homes. They welcomed us. It was a short afternoon, but we connected and chatted and they showed me around. They became human to me, and the wall of fear was broken down. Next time they visited my neighbourhood, I spoke to them. It had broken down the veil of fear which had built untrue assumptions.
As Christians, we are called to overcome the fear of the ‘other’ and the unknown.
The early church was amazing at how they shared everything and had great relationships. In Acts 2:42 we read of their devotion to fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer. They did many things together. They ate together. It was because they were in communion with one another they could share their teaching and their possessions. They did not just sell their possessions and give them away.
Their giving came from the context of fellowship and prayer.
Living responsibly comes from the restoration of relationships with the poor. The Western individual lifestyle is such that “if I can, I will; and I am what I own”. Does this stem from a lack of relationship with others? If you come back to the fellowship and the connections, then getting rid of “things” comes naturally when you
are in relationship with one another.
This drives out the fear of giving.
TEAR’s partner EFICOR (in India) encourages villages in flood-prone areas to form Disaster Management Committees. One activity the DMCs do is to collect household fees so the village has a fund to recover from a disaster, like a flood – a bit like insurance. After the flooding in 2017, some of the villages that were not affected gave their fund to those who were. These were villages who may not even have spoken the same language. Out of their poverty they shared. Likewise, there are groups formed of people who are HIV positive — from different castes and people groups. Some have set up businesses, and their profits are given to the person in greatest need.
They share because they have good relationships.
Sometimes I look into my cupboard and I wonder if I am wearing other people’s clothes. Should my clothes belong to other people? Perhaps I was meant to share them. Am I eating other people’s food? Was I meant to share it? Whatever we get comes from God and is not our own. We have been able to buy it when others have not, even though God’s provisions are meant for everyone.
If we have more, it is our responsibility, not our privilege, to share.
In the creation story, God asks Adam to name the animals. This is very relational! You need a very close relationship to have the privilege to name something. In the naming, an intrinsic relationship is set with the rest of creation so we can thrive in it and take care of it. But just because we name it, we don’t own it. If we think the rest of creation is for our use, then we value it only in what it gives.
We must restore our relationship with the rest of creation.
If we are neighbours, we become more caring, and caring for the environment is no longer an inconvenience but an outcome of being in right relationship with people. If I am a neighbour, then I care about the negative impact of climate change, which results in the death of others. Being in right relationship with the poor who suffer, I am concerned for the pollution that affects their life.
When I am a neighbour to the poor, I am responsible in the way I live.