Serving “the poor”

While in Salvador we were confronted repeatedly by adults and kids asking us for money. Though seen in Altamira, this direct form of street begging happens here to a lesser degree. It always creates in me a conflict between wanting to help and knowing that there is corruption in the “system” and often the money will go toward alcohol, a “pimp”, or another “un-needy” end. In our ministry here we are, however, often asked for things by the people we know. People ask us to borrow money, they ask us directly to give them money, they ask to use our things (car, motorcycle, computers, MP3 players, etc.), they ask us for food, and they ask for work. None of these are bad, especially when we often have the desire and the means to help, but the frequency of the requests leaves us drained. We knew this would be part of missionary life in a depressed part of the world, but we are still adjusting to it.

The neediness of those in this region is significant, though not as severe as in many places in the world. The sidewalks in Salvador were full of sleeping people each and every night and human waste was a common sight. Some were "there" by choice, many were there because they had faced circumstances beyond their ability to manage. Everywhere in the world, people are beaten and wounded by life and the circumstances they face. Some wounds are physical, but most are in the realm of the unseen (emotional, mental, spiritual). In every country, in every city, in every neighborhood, the wounded struggle to make it through another day and find a reason to continue. They can be found living on the streets, they can be members in the grandest country clubs, and they are likely living next door to each of us, as well. Many of us have been in such a hurting place. We may be there again.

There is so much suffering in today’s world and we know that this is nothing new. We also know that Jesus made many references as to His priority in ministering to especially these (the lost, the broken, the captives, the sick…) Why is serving those in need an integral part of God’s kingdom? I believe it is because serving the hurting takes into account the sovereign hand of God in breaking and molding people through difficult circumstances. Jesus made it clear that his Father knows the most minute details of each person’s circumstance (and also those of the sparrow!). If true, and if His stated affection for each is true, then each and every hurt, illness, and tragedy is allowed with His complete knowledge and forethought, and for His good purposes. Why? To bring us to Him. To bring us to Him! To open our eyes to exactly who He is and to find Life in doing so. Because of our blindness, our stubbornness, and our hardness to Him, pain is one of His most effective tools for leading us to Him, in whom can be found ALL the desires of our heart.

Purposeless pain is unbearable, but to recognize that there is a Father’s purpose behind every hurt is the first and most important step toward a healed heart and a contented soul. His church is called Jesus’ body, instruments at His disposal to carry out His ministry to those hurting, to those who don’t know Him, and to those He desires to draw closer to Him. As the hand is directed by the head, we can be directed by Jesus to do His bidding. He directs us to those hurting because it is there that He is presently working, to bring them to Him.

He desires to direct us to people hurting, to love them in their pain and encourage them toward Jesus. We are His instruments of mercy, tangible demonstrations of His heart for the one hurting. His people are His hands in ministering love to receptive hearts, hearts that have become receptive through humbling, difficult circumstances. This is why God’s people are instructed to look for those hurting and minister to them (NOT preach at them). This is why we are working in a depressed part of the world. This is why God’s people can be used in every country, in every neighborhood, in every workplace, in every family. Because hurting people are everywhere.

So how do we help? Where do we start? When we consider where in the world Jesus wants to use us, the options are endless (the majority of the world’s population in 2008 live at or below the standard of living that we see in the Amazon Basin – $7/day average income). As you look around you and as I look around me, it is simply not within us to seek and to meet all the needs. Are we called to do so? I believe that we are NOT called to meet needs, but rather we are called to Him. Helping those hurting will usually be where He leads us but going to Him is the necessary first step. So many people try to meet needs apart from asking Jesus, burning out and ending up cynical and bitter. So many well-intentioned people do more harm than good, by preaching instead of loving or by being "charitable" to feel good about themselves. We cannot really help anyone without Him and His direction. We must make ourselves available to Him, observe those that He puts in our lives, and listen for His direction in how to love them. Jesus went to a single, small region of the world. His followers did the same. We are to do the same. He calls us to Himself, to listen for His instructions, and to obey His call. Our call may be to love a single person or it may be to love several. As we sensitize ourselves to His voice and to the needs of others, He will lead us to someone in need and we can inquire as to what He would have us do. At times He will tell us to help, at times He will tell us not to. He may tell us to speak, He may simply have us come along-side.  He will tell us how, giving us the appropriate words and actions and giving us the courage to overcome the natural discomfort in initiating interaction on a “needs” level.

God desires us to come to Him, receive our instructions, and carry them out. He usually calls us to one person at a time, just as He seemed to enjoy addressing the needs of one person at a time.

God is glorified when suffering people come to Him. He loves using His people in this process. Sometimes He will heal the hurt. As demonstrated with the thief that died next to Him, sometimes God has something better than healing in store for them. But always, it is His heart to use us to lead hurting people to Him, in love.

Please join me today in asking our Father to be His tool of restoration in the life of one wounded. Ask Him for an opportunity and ask Him what He would have you do. To be used in this manner is truly a precious privilege, reserved for those who will seek Him.

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