A Univeral Problem
Poverty has taken many forms over the centuries and across civilizations. What it looked like to be poor at one time period in one cultural context may be completely different compared to another place in time within another culture.
However, despite the fluid relativity of what has been considered “poverty” throughout human history, nearly every part of the globe in the 21st century struggles with poverty to varying degrees.
Even though Canada stands as one of the most developed countries in the world with a high standard of living, Canadians experience their own unique struggles with poverty.
A Brief Glimpse at Poverty
Because poverty looks and affects people differently depending on what part of the world they live in, there is no “one-size-fits-all” definition. Therefore, many academic and nonprofit institutions have created categories for the diverse types of poverty that exist in today’s world.
For example, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development(ASCD), lists 6:
- Situational Poverty is sudden and often temporary (health problems or natural disaster, etc).
- Generational Poverty includes families who have been born into poverty.
- Absolute Poverty is a scarcity of necessities like shelter, running water, and food.
- Relative Poverty happens when economic status is insufficient to meet society’s standard of living.
- Urban Poverty occurs in metropolitan areas.
- Rural Poverty occurs in nonmetropolitan areas.
Interestingly, the Canadian Poverty Institute identifies 3 more:
- Material poverty: lack of access to, or the lack of skills to acquire, sufficient material and financial resources to thrive.
- Social poverty: isolation and lack of formal and informal supports necessary in times of crisis and change
- Spiritual poverty: lack of meaning in one’s life and connection to a faith community (I’ll address this topic later).
I could cite more sources with more definitions, but I think we all get the point. Poverty, a complex, dynamic, and multi-faceted issue, reaps devastating effects on those who suffer under its shadow, no matter what part of the world they live in.
Poverty in Canada
So, what does poverty in rural Canada generally look like?
According to Brandon University, the Canadians who experience poverty typically are:
- In a sole earner family
- People in rural or remote areas
- People with disabilities
- Aboriginal people
The Canadian Poverty Institute provides additional insights on a few of these groups:
- “Indigenous peoples in Canada experience the highest rates of poverty (1 in 4 or 25%)…[and] 40% of indigenous children live in poverty.”
- “Close to 15% of people with disabilities are living in poverty, 59% of whom are women.”
Rural Poverty in Canada
As already pointed out, folks in rural and remote areas are some of the most likely to experience poverty in Canada.
The University of Northern British Columbia, digs a little deeper: “…rural poverty is different that urban poverty due to the isolated nature of many small communities, the different opportunities and challenges that are presented within rural economies, and the unique social norms present in these areas. Driven by the rural idyll images and an absence of welfare supports, rural poverty tends to be more ‘hidden’.”
Furthermore, they also identify the people most likely to live in poverty in rural places:
- Unattached/single individuals, single parents
- Female-headed / grandmother-headed households
- Those with lower levels of education
- People with mental and health disabilities
- Those with drug and alcohol addictions
Reasons for Poverty in Rural Canada
A myriad of factors contribute to the plight of rural communities across Canada. However, let’s touch on a few of the predominant reasons.
Fewer Employment Opportunities
Many rural areas simply lack the economic and employment opportunities that can help attain a comfortable, general standard of living. Additionally, “fewer opportunities for promotion or job progression in rural and small town places” further complicate matters.
Strengthening Rural Canada provides some insight: “rural economies are diverse, ranging from…agriculture, forestry, mining, fishing, hunting and trapping, oil and gas, or tourism…Some rural areas have vibrant economies and others suffer from chronic unemployment and lack of job opportunities.”
[su_pullquote]“Availability of jobs is an issue in our community. However, people often need to travel far, so having a reliable vehicle can be a hinderance. And other factors, like alcohol and substance abuse, are a big party of poverty in this area.” – Village Missionary[/su_pullquote]
I think Brandon University explains this issue rather well:
“Being poor in rural Canada means more than just not having enough. It also means having to travel long distances to get enough.”
If hours’ worth of driving (assuming you have reliable transportation) separates you from a better paying job, educational opportunity, medical care, or even a higher-quality grocery store, this adds another hurdle to one’s ability to escape poverty.
This result makes logical sense. If a rural community cannot offer a diverse array of employment opportunities, and commuting is not possible or is unfavorable, most people simply pack up and head to the cities for economic prosperity.
Unfortunately, this trend continues to leave these small towns in an ever-increasing precarious state. As more young people leave we realize they bring not only jobs, but the future with them.
This “urban-to-rural migration” results in folks who “tend to be older, poorer, less educated, and less connected to the labour force” moving in to take their place.
The Reality of a Broken World
Lack of jobs. Distance from career or educational advancement. Health issues. Addiction. Poor decisions. The list goes on.
Sometimes, a much larger, more complicated story lies behind one’s suffering. Other times, one unfortunate event plunges them into socioeconomic disaster.
The University of Northern British Columbia provides a few examples that captures the reality of poverty that in a more relatable, human way:
“…vehicle repairs; insurance costs; disasters such as fires, floods, and storms; peer pressure to uphold an unaffordable lifestyle; [or even] being discharged from prison or care institution without adequate supports to make a successful transition.”
Whatever the reason(s) causing a person or family to experience poverty in rural Canada, it’s certain that their story includes loss, pain, and tragedy.
How Village Missionaries Help
The Bible is filled to the brim with verse after verse about God’s heart for the poor. He clearly mandates that we, His followers, should care for the lowly and downtrodden.
Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 15:10-11, Psalm 140:12, Proverbs 14:31, Matthew 19:21, Luke 14:13-14, and 1 John 3:17 are merely a few droplets in an ocean of Scripture on this topic.
Village Missionaries serving in rural Canada cannot fully alleviate the pain of poverty in their communities. Sometimes the needs are too great and require additional economic or governmental help. But they can use the resources and opportunities the Lord has given them to serve those in need.
“We help people out with the essentials of life. We also drive them to their appointments, take them shopping, and provide emergency shelter when they are unable to live in their homes.”
“Our church has a “Justice Fund” based on Micah 6:8 – “To do justly” is to do what is right towards other people. We give away $100 each month in gift cards, vouchers, or paying accounts for various people in our church and for those who are connected to our church. We also have a box at the back of the church where people drop off food and personal hygiene items. Then we hand it to a family who comes to our attention.”
A Final Note
I find it very telling that among the different types of poverty identified, spiritual poverty – the lack of meaning in one’s life and connection to a faith community – is considered a category all its own.
Our society claims that objective truth doesn’t exist, all religions and beliefs are equal, and the hedonistic pursuit of self is most important. So I’m not surprised that millions of people find themselves desperately searching for significance in life.
And in many small, unremembered places that dot the diverse landscape of Canada, no gospel witness exists to show people the way to their life’s true purpose and fulfillment – the eternal life that only Jesus Christ offers.
We See Hope
But in the 30 communities where Village Missionaries serve, the message of 2 Corinthians 8:9 is being proclaimed:
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty you might become rich.” (ESV)
Jesus left the indescribable wealth and splendor of His heavenly realm. He became a human and was born into a poor family in a small, discreet town. During His ministry, He ministered to the outcast, the despised, and the unloved, while He himself was an outcast, despised, and unloved by many.
And eventually, His life ended brutally upon a Roman torture device. This very act purchased our redemption and reconciled us to our Creator. The God of the universe, unfathomably rich and powerful, became poor and wretched so that “He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7, ESV).
Those suffering in poverty in rural Canada – especially spiritual poverty – need to hear this great news. Let us pray that the Lord would continue to work through our Village Missionaries to help those in precarious situations as they proclaim the hope and love of Christ, who become poor and gave His life for us.