I write a lot about poverty around the world, and our duty as followers of Christ to do all that we can to eliminate it. To be certain, it is vitally important to support the ministries doing the work in far away countries, so please do not misinterpret what I’m about to say. It’s easy to write a check to send around the world. It’s clean, it doesn’t affect our own life too much, and it’s a very safe thing to do. To actually go to one of these places on a short term mission’s trip is a little more difficult; it’s dirty, it smells bad and it’s inconvenient. You might even find yourself in a little danger. But it’s all very temporary. Soon you will be back in your warm bed, sleeping soundly in your safe neighborhood. You may be changed forever, or you may soon forget the things you saw there. Those who live and work in those countries and environments are true heroes of the faith. They have taken the call to be the hands and feet of Jesus to its full extent, forsaking their own comfort and safety in order to shine the love of Jesus on those less fortunate than them. The mistake we often make is in not realizing that we have the opportunity to live the same kind of life without ever leaving our own cities.
I live in Indianapolis, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. Within twenty-five minutes I can drive from one of the most affluent counties in America onto streets that are lined on both sides with broken down houses occupied by worn out people. If I drive just a few more minutes, I can see underpasses that serve as shelter for those who have no homes. On the streets of my well to do city I see the hollow eyes and hopeless stares of those with no job, no food, no housing and no hope. When asked by others how they might be able to work alongside her, Mother Theresa was often known to respond, “Find your own Calcutta”. Many of us will never travel to another country, and perhaps others will never have the funds to support an overseas ministry. But we can all find our own Calcutta. It’s in the streets of our downtowns, it’s on the rural farms on the outskirts of our counties, and it’s quite possibly in the very neighborhood where we live.
Our current economy has turned the world upside down for a lot of people. Those who owned beautiful homes just two years ago find themselves out of work, foreclosed on and wondering where they will find the money for their next meal. Still others have long ago become disenfranchised and now see life on the street as their only means of survival. These are human beings, exactly like you and me. The homeless are not lazy, ignorant or of a lower class. The poor are not poor because they choose to be. If you hold any of these stereotypes, I highly encourage you to study the subject of homelessness and poverty in America. Read books like “Same Kind of Different as Me”, “Under the Overpass”, and “Street Lives”. Take the time to engage someone less fortunate than yourself in conversation; get to know them and understand their life. Poverty is a vicious cycle, often handed down from generation to generation. It destroys the self image and can become its own self-fulfilling prophecy. Those in need are not different from you and me – they are you and me.
Jesus chose to spend the majority of His time with the poor and the sick. Most of us who claim to be His followers spend almost no time with people in these circumstances. While Jesus claimed it was not the healthy but the sick that needed the doctor, we instead choose to only cater to those with little need. James, the brother of Jesus said that true religion, religion approved by God, was to look after the orphans, the widows and those that are in need. Are you a true follower of Jesus or are you simply seeking a ticket to keep you out of Hell? A true follower of Jesus will serve those He served, and live the life He commands us to live. The single mother who cannot make ends meet is our modern day widow. The homeless person, who has no one to whom he can turn and no place to go, is our orphan. The poor, the hungry and the sick are those in need and it is they whom we must serve. Where is your Calcutta? Find it; it’s right down your street.
Note: This article is a part of the first edition of Here’s Life Inner City’s (www.hlic.org) iHope Blog Carnival. For more information and to read other entries that focus on homelessness and poverty, click here!