“The rich and poor have this in common: The Lord made them both.” (Prov. 22:2)
Did you know that almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day? Or that one out of three urban dwellers (approximately 1 billion people) was living in slum conditions as of 2005? But as sad as these numbers are, the affluence and ease of our lives in North America can quietly erode our concern for the poor. We don’t mean to forget, of course. But life is so busy that we are often carried away by the tyranny of the urgent. Since we ourselves are not hungry, we forget to care for those lacking food. Since we have adequate shelter, we don’t consider it an urgent priority to provide housing for those without.
As I’ve been studying Proverbs this go-round, I was again struck by God’s love and heart for the poor, and His admonitions for us to be generous, to care, to reach out. The book of Wisdom even has a word to us women specifically, saying of the virtuous woman: “She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy.” I want to be that virtuous woman. I want to model charity from the heart, and I want to teach my children to be generous as well.
This next set of lessons is designed to be a starting point, to introduce them to the world of homelessness, to the lack of clothing and shelter, to refugee camps. But I would also encourage you to dig deeper. Make generosity a lifestyle, not just an action. Be urgent about the need.
Here are some articles, books and websites that have challenged me and are shaping my responses to the poor:
- The Chalmers Center: An excellent organization that trains Christians in effective poverty alleviation and outreach. Just giving a handout is almost never a good idea. Check out their material, especially the book When Helping Hurts.
- prisoneralert.com: Don’t just pray for persecuted believers – write them! This website provides situation bios, mailing addresses and translated messages so that you can encourage imprisoned Christians around the world.
- Where Would Jesus Live?: A challenging article about Americans who are voluntarily living in the ‘hood in order to show the love of Christ.
- The Second Chance: A film by Steve Taylor, starring Michael W. Smith, about a pastor from the suburbs who’s thrown into ghetto ministry. Now it’s not the greatest piece of filmmaking ever, but the film’s main message is challenging, and can be summed up by a line from the end of the film: “I never realized that being comfortable could be a sin.”
My husband and I often produce videos for non-profit ministries. During the production of one, we met a pastor of a large, affluent church who was living in some rundown apartments so that he could minister to the refugees that were resettled there. We had dinner with him, and sat with a political dissident from Burma, a young boy from Somalia, another child from Bosnia – I was so challenged by the love this pastor was showing them. He had refugees over for dinner almost every other night, which was only possible because he had chosen to live among them. Definitely not the comfortable suburban ministry that most of us embrace – but probably more Christlike.
Any resources, ministries, thoughts you have about outreach to the poor, about making generosity a way of life and not just the writing of a check? I’d love to hear it.