Ann Sukraw-Lutz wants the nation’s 37 million people living below the poverty line to be lifted into the middle class and seated at their rightful place, the banquet table Christ has set.
She’s inviting participants at Synod of Lakes and Prairies Synod School to join the “each one reach one” effort.
Sukraw-Lutz, a member of the First Presbyterian Church at Grand Island, Neb., offered up her own experience working for churches and Nebraska Legal Services as well as principles from the book Bridges Out of Poverty during a workshop Tuesday (July 26).
Her mission is to get her middle-class audience to understand how differently poor and middle-class people deal with life’s challenges.
There are hidden rules of class, she said, rules that middle-class people must know if they’re going to help a person escape from generational poverty.
While middle-class people may use a vacation to recharge their batteries and escape for a while, poor people rely more on entertainment. When Sukraw-Lutz hears “well-meaning church people” complain that “if they could manage their money, by golly, they wouldn’t be in poverty,” it stops her short.
“It’s their source of entertainment, something they’ve found that relieves the anxiety of the next crisis that’s coming through their door,” she said.
For the poor person serving a meal to her family, the question is always, “Did you get enough?” A middle-class cook asks, “Did you like it?” while wealthy people are more concerned with presentation.
Because people stuck in generational poverty often believe it’s their fate, “the gospel is liberating to those in poverty,” Sukraw-Lutz said.
When she began working with poor people, Sukraw-Lutz recalls often using her “mommy voice” to tell them what their goals ought to be. “That’s insulting and rude,” she said. “I had to learn to use an adult voice instead.”
Some people cross the bridge out of poverty because it’s too painful to stay, such as the victims of domestic violence. Others have a special skill, like sports, or land a scholarship.
Sukraw-Lutz wants more people to escape generational poverty because they’ve formed a key relationship with a follower of Jesus Christ.
“The best way to transform somebody is to be Christ’s hands and feet for others,” she said. “That’s a journey that’s messy and hard, but it’s the affirmation of everything that Jesus asked us to do.”
Mike Ferguson is a member of the United Presbyterian Church in Lone Tree, Iowa, and a reporter for the “Muscatine Journal,” the newspaper where Mark Twain got his start. He is a regular contributor to Presbyterian News Service.