If anyone tells you there are easy answers to poverty, brokenness, and injustice, they’re probably selling you snake oil.
Snake oil gained wild popularity among 19th-century laborers working on the U.S.’s First Transcontinental Railroad and desperate for relief from their muscle and joint pain. While there is legitimate evidence indicating that oil from certain sea snakes in Asia are actually effective in relieving pain, it’s highly unlikely that the kinds sold to those unsuspecting railroad workers contained it. Despite this, convincing (but negligent) traveling salesmen jumped on the bandwagon, peddling knock-off elixirs and miraculous remedies—claiming to heal everything from hiccups to hearing loss—without disclosure of what they contained or why they worked. An entire industry, based on bottled, over-hyped solutions, was born.
It might feel easy to blame these slippery salesmen. How could they possibly think that something as complex as a person’s health could be trusted to a single solution?
But the truth is, we become peddlers of our own version of snake oil when we claim that a single approach or organization offers a universal remedy to the world’s brokenness.
I discovered this anew, not through my international work in poverty alleviation, but as my family has become involved in Safe Families, a ministry providing respite care for children. The program serves as a safety net, offering parents dealing with the challenges of drug addiction, domestic abuse, incarceration, or illness, an alternative to foster care for their children.
It’s a powerful program, and through it, we’ve gotten to know courageous parents and precious children. It’s also given us a glimpse into just how complex and difficult these situations are.
Addiction is strong.
Poverty is real.
Violence is crushing.
Sin is pervasive.
We love these kids, and when they return to their families, the current crisis might have abated yet very significant challenges remain. Our hearts have broken, and we find ourselves longing for lasting solutions.
But seeing these situations firsthand, we’ve also learned just how crazy it would be to assume there is one simple fix to all of them. When you’re up close and the problems become personal, you see the shades and the nuance. You see how sometimes there is real progress, and sometimes situations don’t seem to change. You get glimpses of hope and moments of despair. Life is complicated, and you realize there are no easy answers. That’s why we support the respite program we’re a part of, and we recognize how essential it is for there to also be detox programs, job placement training, housing assistance, local church support, and other aspects of help.
I’m passionate about Safe Families and equipping churches to serve as havens of rest for families in crisis. I’m also passionate about microenterprise development and helping families start or expand businesses to provide for their own needs. But seeing the brokenness and complexity, it’s clear that neither are perfect or complete solutions.
There are no “Three Easy Steps” to the significant problems of our world, and the complexity of the situations makes me realize how thankful I am for a hope that is secure. We trust that God is at work bringing healing and wholeness—and we celebrate the glimpses of grace breaking into even the most challenging situations. We leap even more fully into the brokenness, as imperfect people loving and serving others through imperfect solutions, but guided by our perfect Savior.