Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of John B. Hayes' recent book, Sub-Merge: Living Deep in a Shallow World: Service, Justice, and Contemplation Among the World’s Poor, (Regal Books, 2006). 

Poverty is on display constantly in the news. It’s as far away as a distant continent and as close as your local city. But the sheer magnitude of the problem can overwhelm and paralyze you if you don’t see beyond poverty as an issue and get to know poor people themselves. When you build relationships with people living in poverty, you’ll begin to see that you can fight the monster of poverty by making a difference in individual lives.

Here’s how you can reach out to the poor:

* Think in terms of people, not programs. Realize that, while organized programs do provide valuable services to the poor, programs can only go so far. Understand that meaningful relationships can do what programs can’t – provide the support, encouragement, and accountability that lead to lasting change over time. Ask God to help you view poor people as individual souls you can befriend, instead of just a demographic group. Instead of looking for large-scale projects, look into the faces of people you want to love and empower and begin building relationships with them.

* Join God where He is already at work. Rather than just jumping into an effort to serve poor people, ask God to direct you to focus on the specific people He wants you to help. Don’t approach your service with your own agenda; invite God to show you what He is already doing in poor people’s lives and how you can participate in that work.

* Go deeper. Don’t settle for the type of shallow life that our culture often celebrates. Pray for the courage to live with a deeper faith. Make time to truly get to know your neighbors and others around you. Build deeper relationships that will lead to significant transformation. Instead of focusing on just making a living as best you can, choose work that will help you live out your core values and contribute to the world in the ways God wants you to do so. Trust that if you invest your time and talents pursuing the right type of work, God will provide for all your financial needs and you will ultimately be much more fulfilled than if you were in a job that’s wrong for you. Follow God’s calling in all your work – both paid and volunteer – so you can make the difference He wants you make.

* Consider moving to a poor neighborhood. Know that you can make the greatest impact on poor people by submerging yourself into their world, just as Jesus submerged Himself from heaven to earth through His incarnation. Think and pray about whether God might want you to move to a poor area – such as from the suburbs to the inner city – and begin ministering to the poor as one of them. Earn the right to be heard. Make time to learn their culture, history, how they communicate, and all else that is most important to them so you can earn their trust and make a powerful difference in their lives. Join them to bear their burdens and celebrate their victories together. Work for positive change from the inside out. Partner with people God has already placed in the neighborhood. Know that if you sense God leading you to serve the poor by living among them, all the risks (danger, disease, lack of privacy, etc.) will be worthwhile taking to do the work He’s calling you to do. Trust God to meet all your needs.

* Consider a short-term mission trip. If you don’t sense God’s call to relocate to a poor neighborhood, think and pray about traveling to one and staying long enough to complete a certain project and build meaningful relationships with people there.