Q&A with Mark Bowers

Q&A with Mark Bowers


Throughout his tenure at the Chalmers Center, Mark has overseen the research, development and pilot-test of their U.S. and international development curriculum. He also developed training of trainers(TOT) processes to equip facilitators and partners to use non-formal microfinance, financial education and jobs readiness tools in their communities. Mark earned a BA in Psychology and an MA in Intercultural Studies while teaching at Quy Nhon University of Pedagogy in Vietnam. Outside of work, Mark loves creating travel adventures with his wife, Tannia, and their new baby boy, Elías.

Q: A majority of U.S. adults incorrectly assumes international poverty has increased in the past 25 years, even though millions have been lifted out of poverty in that time . If progress has occurred / is occurring even while most Americans seem to be a bit out of touch on this issue, why is it still significant to be educating donors and the Church on the realities and best practices of poverty alleviation? 01

Even with this news that global economic mobility is on the rise, the Church still has a calling that has yet to be fulfilled: to proclaim and put to practice the good news of the Kingdom reign of God, over all of creation and among the poor. We have to be careful as a Church that we don’t fully equate social and economic mobility with poverty alleviation. While God’s blessing does have a material component, that is just one sign of his favor.

Jesus was always talking about finances—and not just as some material matter, but as a spiritual matter. That’s a big contrast to this dualistic thinking of today that divorces the sacred and the secular. In proper context, the countless teachings and parables of Jesus about wealth, possessions and the Kingdom of God simply don’t make sense as messages of individual fulfillment, try as some may. When we examine Old Testament economic customs like Jubilee, Gleaning, Sabbath, we’ll find laws that God set up to assure that there would be justice and peace. Since the beginning, money has always held a central place in God’s work, and the local church has a unique role to play in demonstrating the kind of financial shalom that we’re supposed to aim for and bring about in the world. That biblical shalom is not the same thing as secular social mobility.

The Church is there to call people of all income levels to ultimately see that God is the one who is providing for us and not ourselves. It’s reminding us again that, while financial flourishing might be one sign of God’s blessing, it’s not the end goal. According to a holistic definition of poverty, we are all poor, materially or not, and strive to be transformed day-by-day into God’s glorious image.

Q: Why do pastors have a unique role to play in helping the poor, even in a time marked by secularization and less trust of faith leaders on other major topics? 02

When you are trying to practice the economy of Jesus among people who are poor—with your neighbors, your friends or community members—I can’t think of a better person than a pastor who can help to guide you. That’s their role in the church, to shepherd and to guide us through what living out the Kingdom of God looks like. A pastor is really the ultimate steward of the people of God—and having a place where they can work out these kind of complicated economic issues in a community of trust is vital for growth.

Q: What are common mistakes or misconceptions that might keep people from really being able to play their unique role? 03

In the history of the church, we’ve done terrible things to people who are poor and marginalized in the name of God. God help us to never do those things again. But at the same time, let’s not let that fear of repeating harm paralyze us. Let’s walk forward in faith and humility as learners in these relationships. Instead of saying, Don’t, you’re just going to hurt people, we’re trying to say, What are the best practices? How can you actually help in ways that are mutually healthy? Don’t let that fear of hurting stunt you. Don’t just cancel your ministries; remake them. Reimagine them. The Chalmers Center has created courses like “Are You a Good Neighbor?” to help church members ask themselves and their leaders questions like: How do we practice hospitality toward the poor? Even more importantly, do we know how to receive from people who are poor? What do we communicate in the physical spaces where we live, work and shop? In our churches, how do our spending habits, the style of worship, the language options and the level of literacy make the Kingdom accessible to others?

Q: How can the U.S. Church ensure that the voices of the marginalized help shape efforts to help the poor? 04

I’m a white male. I’m in my 30s. I have inherited a legacy, especially in my nation, of economic systems that have actually helped me to succeed. It’s easy to say, “Well, I worked hard for my success,” and not recognize the collective history that’s helped me to do that. That individualistic perspective doesn’t see when systems, in the U.S. or around the world, work well for me—but might not work well for everyone else.

Part of recognizing privilege means that we intentionally place ourselves under the leadership of Christians who are marginalized so that they can shape our walk with God and the way we do economic development ministry. On a personal level, consider your mentors: Are any of them of a different race or lower socioeconomic position than you are? On a church or local community level, are those with privilege willing to cede power to someone of a minority ethnicity, lower educational level or lower economic status? Those questions serve as a litmus test for how ready we truly are to include the voices of our brothers and sisters on the margins.

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