Choosing to be homeless and poor

Last week was a wake up call for Americans on the subject of poverty when it was discovered that poverty had risen to 15.1%. The number of Americans in poverty is the highest since counting began in 1959.

The USA poverty line is an income of US$22,113 a year for a family of 4. That puts our family under the p. line also. Maybe yours?

Most people dont intend to end up under the poverty level but there are many young people and families in the emerging church movement that have intentionally placed themselves there, both financially and geographically, in order to make a difference among poor people. They are not ministering to the poor – they ARE poor and they minister to their friends and neighbors around them.

I suppose that includes our family, although I don’t want to sound over-righteous about it and I have to admit that occasional offers of well-salaried pastoral work still tempt me to give up our lifestyle. Momentarily.

Some random thoughts on being homeless and poor.

– Over one billion people live in the worlds urban squats and slums and that number is rising. Very, very, very FEW Christian workers relocate to these places and very, very, very LITTLE of mission-bound finances end up flowing into these squats.

– For all the talk at Lausanne last year on the importance of “cities” and urban ministry, there wasnt much about urban squats and slums that are becoming a larger part of global cities. But participants were encouraged to visit a “township” on the edge of Cape Town. Many of them did and were impacted.

– Out of the 4,500 participants at Lausanne World Congress last year, I think I was the only homeless person. It didn’t affect my experience there, although I was often confused about which country or region group to identify with. I chose a few of them – the NZ/Australia group, the British contingent, and North America.

– Justin Long, also a Lausanne participant and blogger, has some good links to slums and the problem of “slum tourism”.

– Being homeless is not the same as being poor. USA has over 8 million RV’s but and at least a million “full-time RV’ers” but it is estimated that about a quarter of a million of these people live in their motorhome and do not own a permanent place to park it. Which is not  sign of poverty – some of these motorhomes cost a million dollars.

– In the 1930’s, it was predicted that a third of Americans would one day live in their vehicles. That didn’t happen.

– Jesus choose to be homeless and poor in order to complete his mission on earth. Abraham was homeless and nomadic when he received his vision from God (Gen 12). Jacob was wild camping when he had his dream of the ladder and God’s restating of the promise to his Grandad.

– You will think me biased here  . . .  but . . . I think Kiwis and Aussies seem to have the edge on both formulating a theological response to the poorest of the poor and creating an incarnational lifestyle inside squats that make a difference. Examples:  Viv Grigg (NZ) and Dave Andrews (Aus) have both given me a lot of think of over the years. Ash Barker of UNOH has a Phd dissertation on the subject of squats and slums which is giving me more to think about. Check out Cry of the Urban Poor: Reaching the Slums of Today’s Megacities

-Before you berate me for the last comment, I should mention the great contributions of Dalit theology and people like Chris Sudgen and Vinay Samuel and the many workers in Asia’s squats who are doing a great job without writing books on it.

– Kiwi Viv Grigg taught us that the first thing you do when you move into a slum or squat is  . . .  dig yourself a decent toilet.

– Jenny and Justin Duckworth have just released a book on how to live among the poor and not get snotty about it. Its called Against the Tide, Towards the Kingdom. The mission that they founded in Wellington, Urban Vision, is an outgrowth of Youth For Christ which stresses relocation among the poor and intentionally living below the poverty level. The young people in Urban Vision achieve this through working only 20 hours a week and giving the other 20 hours to voluntary ministry among the poor and marginalised. How they keep sane and raise their kids and change the world all at the same time is the subject of their book. I will write more on it soon.

I got much more but this post is draggin’. Let me ask a question:

US$22,113 for family of 4. Are you under poverty level by circumstance or choice?


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • I understand the point you are trying to make and for one who has a gifting for work with the poor, I imaging there is fertile ground for ministry, i.e., the harvest is plentiful; the workers are few. We may have to resort to this to bring the coutry out of the economic crisis.

  • Caedmon says:

    Yes. I can’t reach out to the people by the river if I won’t walk the dirt trails. But it’s hard. Choosing to live this way doesn’t make the addiction to stuff go away. I look at what I am “missing” and forget that I already have everything I could possibly need.

  • Jason says:

    I have thought a lot about ministries like yours and thought of doing the same here in the states. Though the government thinks we are poor, my oldest daughter always talks about how rich we are.

  • Liam McHenry says:

    I have relocated my family to a poor suburb to plant a church. It’s not a slum, but is a marginalized suburb on the fringe of society. We struggle just like our neighbors. Often we get very generous gifts which allow us to sow back into the community, buying things for single mums or providing meals for recovering substance abuses and people with health problems.
    It is a hard ministry, but I love it. What breaks my heart is that it is seen as extreme ministry or a hard core ministry – when it’s simply modeling our Lord. For the most part, I find the average Christian in the west holier and more ceremonially clean than the Pharisees.

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