Mere charity and handouts would not do the job of enabling the destitute not to be destitute anymore; consequently an empowering approach is needed. An “empowering” approach is explored in greater detail in chapter 5.
The Merriam Webster OnLine dictionary (http://www.m-w.com/) defines empower as “Enable, to promote the self-actualization or influence, to authorize, delegate authority, permit”.
Enable, in the same dictionary, is defined as “to make able, give means or power to…, to make possible or more easy”.
The Readers Digest Word Power Dictionary adds an interesting perspective in the words “Give strength and confidence to…”
Some reflection on the Biblical use of this word could richly add to the meaning.
“Dunamoo” is defined as “to be able, to cause someone to have the ability to do or to experience something – ‘to make someone able, to give capability to, to enable, to strengthen, to empower, to make sufficient, to qualify”.(Louw & Nida, 1989:676)
Scriptural examples of this denotation include Col. 1:11, “…being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might”, or Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things by the one who makes me able” or ‘I am able to face anything by the one who makes me able (to do it)” (Louw & Nida 1989: 676).
In summary, the word “empower” in the context of this study means:
The action, series of actions or process whereby…
A person is assisted, enabled, equipped, authorized, given strength and confidence to, permitted, made sufficient, qualified or given the power and strength to…
Grow, develop or be transformed…
From being destitute to SHALOM.
I approach empowerment in a holistic way, meaning that the aim is to empower the complete person in his or her complete world or existence.
I also approach empowerment in a missiological way, meaning that people can only truly be empowered if they are reconciled with God, and if they find their purpose in God. In this regard the word “SHALOM” becomes important, because it states the aim of empowerment in the context of this study in the best way. It receives detailed attention in a later chapter; however, the broad concept must already be touched upon in this chapter, in the light of the missiological nature of the study.
In undertaking the research for this study, I encountered the word “homeless” as the word that is usually used for the poorest of the poor. Yet this seems too narrow a term to encapsulate the problems of being destitute. I see “homelessness” as part of being destitute, but “destitute” as referring to much more than mere homelessness. A destitute person is usually homeless as well, but homelessness is just one of the many visible manifestations of destitution. In moving away from the term “homeless” to the broader term “destitute”, the researcher attempts to place the focus on the various different problems that together make a person destitute, as opposed to homelessness which may draw attention towards a narrower understanding of “being without a home/ shelter”.
The Merriam Webster OnLine dictionary (http://www.m-w.com/), defines destitute as “not having or possessing, entirely lacking with, of, being in want, extremely poor, desolate, forsaken without food, shelter etc., completely impoverished, lacking”.
The Readers Digest Word Power Dictionary adds to this definition in the words “extremely poor and lacking the means to provide for oneself, down and out, forsaken, broken down”.
In summary, destitution is understood (in my own words) to refer to “People who are lacking the basic means of human existence, and are therefore wanting, because they are extremely poor, this condition being the result of (1) personal factors such as wrong choices, underdeveloped coping skills, family situations etc., or (2) social factors, where society abuses people etc., in the process breaking them down, deserting and abandoning them, or because they are marginalized, once again resulting in their being extremely poor”.
In addition, the condition of being “destitute” causes a whole range of personal and social problems, ranging from a breakdown in self-image, to the inability to break out of the vicious circle of poverty.
In biblical terms, the word “poor” best encapsulates the concept of “being destitute”. It is therefore prudent to include a study of the words “poor” and “poverty”. This is done in a later chapter.
Even though the word “people” is a collective term, in this context I use it to refer to any number of individual persons with whom I come into contact while engaging the destitute. Together, I refer to these individuals as people.
In this study, the focus falls firstly on the individual, not on the community. The premise is that if we can manage to empower individual people (at the micro level), they can then become “disciples” who can influence their communities, thus slowly transforming that community (on the macro level).
Therefore the emphasis is very much on personal development. While this includes economic empowerment, the current thesis will not deal with the issue of economic empowerment in any real detail, which is another study. Yet the issue is touched upon.
The reason for this concentration on personal, individual development, can, in my understanding, best be summed up by the words of Manalisi Deka, a Masters student with IUM, during the July 2003 Winter School conference of IUM, that I already quoted earlier: “When we develop people, they become creative, and a creative person can make something out of nothing!”
This concept is expressed by Adams and Spencer (1986:5), who draw a distinction between a reactive style of thinking and behaviour, and a creative style (noting, en passant, that the two words “reactive and creative” are made up of the same letters, and the only difference between the two is that you “C” (see) differently!).
Every individual forms part of a community, or even communities. As such, individual people exert an influence, however small that influence might be, on their communities. This study does not attempt to evaluate or incorporate developmental models or issues on the level of community development, but on the micro level as these issues and models apply to the individual.
At the same time the impact of communities on the individuals constituting those communities cannot be neglected. Whether the destitute are part of a community (however fragmented), or must be reconnected to communities, their being part of a community of care must play an important role in empowering them. Therefore community development approaches must be viewed as constituting part of a comprehensive holistic model of care for the destitute. This matter is addressed in Chapter 7, under the heading “Missions with the destitute from the outside-in”. Hence, even though the focus of this study falls on empowering individual destitute people, community is seen as an integral part of that empowerment.