Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. ~James 2:15-17~
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. ~Deuteronomy 15:11~
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? ~1 John 3:17~
One of the unfortunate things about living in America is the wide gap between the poor and the rich. Some may argue with me that this gap is indeed unfortunate, but let me explain. Most of us who live in middle-to-upper-class neighborhoods have to do a good amount of searching to encounter someone whose physical needs are not being met. We have to seek out opportunities to be in touch with the poor…..like heading to serve at a homeless shelter, or signing up to buy school supplies or winter coats for a disadvantaged family, or walking through a ‘bad part of the city’ to share the gospel with some youth who need hope. Even more unfortunate, many of us would rather keep the poor at a distance because it’s often uncomfortable associating with those in ‘low position’. Of course, if you take a walk through any of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) you will see that Jesus is in the business of turning the world’s logic upside down. As Shane Claiborne notes in his book Irresistible Revolution, “Jesus did not seek out the rich and powerful in order to trickle down his kingdom. Rather, he joined those at the bottom, the outcasts and undesirables, and everyone was attracted to his love for people on the margins.” That is the Jesus we follow, and you can barely get through a chapter in the New Testament without seeing his love on display for the poor and needy. Over and over again, Jesus calls us to defend, love, and plead for the poor….not just with words, but with actions. Interestingly, when we follow Jesus into the homes of the broken, oppressed and needy, we find that they are often the ones who teach us a thing or two about the Kingdom of God.
In Asikuma, Ghana, the exact second that you step foot outside your hotel door, you are confronted by pure need….everywhere. It’s overwhelming and can send you on a roller coaster of emotions. You can easily get angered by the corruption of the government officials who rack up expenses on luxurious lifestyles while the school they are supposed to be funding doesn’t even get books for education. You can feel a sense of hopelessness as you watch the same mother sell bananas at the same spot every day, all day, and you know that her earnings will barely reach $1 by the time the sun goes down. Handouts are NEVER going to alleviate the cycle of poverty that much of Ghana has found itself in. Rather, the root causes of poverty ~ injustices (corruption, exploitation, manipulation) and lack of opportunity ~ must be addressed in order to crack into the never-ending cycle. I’ve written more on this topic which you can read about here.
Handouts are a temporary, even daily fix, for those in need. But, what has lasting significance is the love and compassion that the recipient will encounter as we, the givers, reach out to them and freely give.
We then prayed a prayer of blessing and protection over these sweet ones.
Other than tangible donations, many on our team came with personal money set aside to give out as God instructed. Some of these stories may end up being part of trip highlights, so I will let others tell their stories if they desire. Jake said I could share his. :) While we were sitting at church a little girl walked up to Jake and held out her arms for him to pick her up. As she relaxed into his arms I noticed that she was very lethargic, her legs had open sores all the way up and down, and her eyes were extremely yellowed. It’s pretty easy to tell which kids are sick here because the signs are so visible. Within about 5 minutes the little girl peacefully fell asleep while Jake held her. Sometime later her mom walked up and thanked Jake for holding her and then scooped her up and started heading back into the housing area. Shortly after, Jake got up and left in the middle of the church service and I had no idea what he was doing. Later he told me that he felt God urging him to follow the mom and daughter to give them some money to get medical care, so he did. The people in Asikuma have no access to doctors (of course that all changes now that the medical clinic is built!) so they need transportation to the nearest hospital which is a few towns away. Most cannot afford the bus or taxi fare. As joyous as it is to hand out tangible donations, it is all the more powerful to be able to gift financially. Jake with his sweet and very sick little girl.........
Lord, I pray that you would use us, your church, to reach the poor. What a tragedy it would be for our brothers and sisters to go hungry, or to suffer from preventable diseases, or to not have their daily needs met because we did not act. Lord we have SEEN with our own eyes. Now we are responsible for what we know. Use us Lord, to reach out in love towards others in the same way that your grace has extended to us. Amen.