The Bible makes reference to the poor in over two thousand verses. Compared to North America, more than half of the world lives in abject poverty, living on less than $2 a day, while a billion are trapped in extreme poverty with an income average of less than $1 a day. Jesus gave special attention to the poor and emphasized the importance of ministering to them. (Those in North America we refer to as “living in poverty” would actually be considered wealthy in third world countries.)
In the outreach programs of LIFE, we assist the poor by saving their lives in crisis situations – providing food and clean water in areas brought to our attention by our mission partners around the world. When they are stabilized, we show them how to make a living, and establish feeding programs in schools so the children will be encouraged to attend. Alleviating poverty is never accomplished by inspiring an entitlement mentality or dependent communities. There is no effective assistance apart from compassion.
Recently we aired a television program with our wonderful friend from Canada, Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts and a popular Women of Faith speaker. After a mission trip to Uganda, she wrote an article concerning that experience. Here are portions of it addressed to the church on our continent, but it is actually a message to the whole church around the world.
Dear North American Church,
After a Sunday morning in Africa, you don’t look the same to me.
You look hungry.
Hungrier than anything I’ve seen in Africa.
Because after I watched that Ugandan woman?
That one woman with no shoes and no husband and 7 kids walk up to the front of the church and put this bag of beans into the basket as her love offering to God – my heart ached this raw conviction, and I could feel it with you, North American Church, what you really wanted.
You’re hungry to love like this. You are hungry for the uncomfortable.
You are hungry to sacrifice your Starbucks coffees, your NetFlix subscription, your dinners out for something More. You’re hungry for more than vanilla services, and sweetened programs, and watered down lives.
You’re famished for More, for hard and holy things, for some real meat for your starved soul, some real dirt under your fingernails, some real sacrifice in your veins – some real Jesus in your blood and in your hands and in your feet.
…You don’t have to wait to have more, you don’t have to wait to have much, you don’t have to wait at all. …It’s not just the rich who get to give – it’s all those who give who get to be rich.
You don’t wait until you have more before you give to God – you give now so you get to become more in God.
…”Bring your one handful of beans, bring your one heart overflowing with song”. It’s not having much that makes your rich – it’s the giving much that makes you rich. Give and you are the rich.
And I’m sitting under a tree in Africa with the richest in the world and it’s not Bill Gates and it’s not Warren Buffet and it’s not Mark Zuckerberg and it’s not the family with 2 cars, a flat screen television and one week at Disney. It’s a bunch of kids in Africa in ripped shirts and torn shoes, who have no knives or forks and sleep on floors.
It’s only the people who give sacrificially who get to live richly.
And I bow my sorry head.
The pastor invites us to sing. I’m not sure how to find my feet. I am not sure how to let go. I am not sure how to live. The song begins a cappella, hearts the only instrument we all have.
Soon and very soon
We are going to see the King…
African voices, deep and strong, join ours.
Soon and very soon
We are going to see the King…
I sing the words looking out at a congregation of worn out clothes hanging over tired backs and hungry bellies and willing hands. I sing the words looking into the whites of eyes in weathered ebony faces. And then I am only mouthing the words. Like there’s no voice left in me.
Like there’s no way I can sing that soon and very soon we’re all going to see our Father – when I’m living like this – and my brothers and sisters are living like that. When too many North Americans diet for a hobby, and too many Africans die for a meal. When our churches have building budgets and our sisters have dying children.
We aren’t playing games here. We aren’t just singing diddy choruses here…
If God is real, if the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is really on the throne, if we are all going to see our Jesus King face to face, soon and very soon – then there’s a whole lot of us who are wild to change things soon. Now.
For such a time as Now.
I am standing in Africa and there’s light in the trees and there is clarity and there are those who are saved but only by the skin of their teeth – because they cared most about the comfort of their own skin and only minimally about anyone else’s. They will have a hardly abundant entrance awaiting them in heaven.
But that is not us.
There are those who would rather turn away instead of turn around.
There are those who would love playing at being Christian, than to actually be one and love giving.
But that is not us.
I am standing in Africa and there is a whole Esther Generation and it is us who want hard and holy things because we want more than hollow lives.
There’s a whole Esther Generation and it is us who want our children to know the More Life, a life more than self-focus and cell phones, more than iphones, itunes, ipads and iLove, who want them to know the More Life of loving the least, the lonely and the lost and tasting the joy of God.
There is a whole Esther Generation and it is us who are done with our church buildings rising like these seemingly indifferent, polished towers toward the sky, right in the face of our brothers and sisters drinking down muddied water, crowded into living quarters smaller than our bathrooms, barely scraping together enough food to stave off relentless hunger pangs.
There is a whole Esther Generation and it is us who are done with hardly even remembering them, let alone praying for them.
I am standing in Africa and there is a whole Esther Generation and it is us who are done with easy, who say to the North American Church:
Be concerned for the poor – but be no less concerned for us rich who claim not to be rich so we can excuse ourselves from giving.
Be concerned for the poor – but no less concerned for us who have done just enough to assuage our consciences, just enough to pat ourselves on the back, but not enough that we’ve ever felt sacrifice.
Be concerned for the poor – but be no less concerned for us who aren’t – because someday we will face Christ.
I am standing in Africa and you can hear the whole North American church rising up, crying out: What if caring for the poor was more than just caring about easing our consciences? What if caring for the poor meant feeling sacrifice for the poor? What if we weren’t really feeling care for the poor – until we were really feeling sacrifice for them?
North American Church: It is time: We are all done with no-risk, no-sacrifice, no-point lives.
It is time: We’re all hungry for uncomfortable because we’re hungry for God – and He is outside of our comfort zones.
Thank you, Ann, for permission to quote from your article. I have shared with LIFE Today viewers many times, “If you want to live life fully, share life freely.” Giving to the poor is one of life’s greatest possible experiences. Perhaps in those moments we are as much like Jesus as we will ever be on this earth. Betty and I and our family have found this to be absolutely true. Friends of LIFE and our outreaches give the same testimony. Do not miss this blessing whatever the cost or sacrifice.