Tuesday, August 16, 2011

He Has Scattered Abroad His Gifts to the Poor

“The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” ~Luke 3:11~

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.

How can the love of God be in me if I walk by my brothers and sisters in Asikuma and see their needs, but do nothing about it? Yes, if I only meet their needs for a day, then they will still have those same needs tomorrow. In the same way, Jesus fed the thousands, and the next day they were hungry again…..but we remember his love. Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, and a few years later, Lazarus died again. Jesus healed the sick, but they eventually caught some other disease. It wasn’t that Jesus healed a leper but that he touched a leper, because no one touched lepers (more thoughts from the book Irresistible Revolution). The underlying message is LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! We can’t always fix people and their situations, but we can reach out to them in their time of need, instead of just walking right on by.

Over our days in Asikuma we gave out many of the donations we had been collecting for the past few months. There were some who we had specifically brought items for….

On our last trip to Asikuma in March you may remember that we had a day when we visited Asikuma Presbytarian Primary School while it was in session. It was that day that Nana & Esi and Doug & Dawn Vander Weide each pledged to sponsor 20 needy boys and 20 needy girls in the school. From there, Doug’s parents also offered to sponsor 20 more kids which made 60 total. Since our last trip the school gave us a list of the most needy kids and the Vander Weides' got to work on putting together school bags and supplies for each of them. Esi got to work on hiring someone to sew new school uniforms for each of the kids. On this trip we had a little presentation to give the bags and the uniforms to the sponsored kids. Us organizing beforehand….

The crisp and new uniforms.................................

Doug’s mom, Lois, got school bags made with each of the kids names embroidered on them. The bags were then filled with all sorts of essentials like school supplies, clothes, toothbrushes/toothpaste, soap and also some fun things like candy, play-doh, nerf footballs for the boys, and glitter sticks for the girls. The kids came to our hotel dressed in their best and accompanied by their school teacher to receive their supplies and uniforms…..

Pastor Jeff explained to the kids how to use all the items in the bags. :)

We then prayed a prayer of blessing and protection over these sweet ones.

On a different occasion Esi arrived at our hotel with all the donations that we had shipped over previously. We had such a surplus that we could bless kids with that we decided to organize a mass handout. But, things can get ugly fast though if there are too many kids at once. Pastor Jeff mentioned that with his experiences in Zambia it worked well for them to set the donations up in one of the school classrooms. Then kids could be shuffled through a few at a time, children could be outfitted personally, and then exit out the opposite door. We decided to try it. We loaded up Nana’s truck and headed out to the schoolyard.

Upon arrival we quickly dodged into one of the classrooms and locked the doors so we could begin unloading and organizing the donations.

The kids had seen us pull in with the truck load and figured out what we were doing by watching us through the school room windows! They piled up outside the doors.

Once everything was organized we started letting in about 3 kids at a time, and tried to give everyone at least one thing. Many of these children wear the same clothes for days at a time with no washings. It is pretty common that their clothes are covered in a blanket of body odor and the smell of urine. It was such a joy to be able to give them something that was fresh and clean.

We also were able to do some quick changes with some of the girls and it was so awesome to watch their faces LIGHT UP as they put on their new dresses! Before and afters....

By the time our donations were out I think we had given something to over 150 kids. There were many more still waiting in line at the door who had to go home empty-handed.

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.........

When we hand something out, whether it be a Bible, or clothes, or shoes, or food, or money, I often wish that I could be a little mouse in the corner to see the effects later on. You just never know what mother or father prayed for God to provide for them that day.

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.


Lori said...

What I love about the action on these trips is watching an idea come to pass. You see a need, you come home and tell us about it, many step up to help and you have answered prayers in the form of giving, not only items, but LOVE. Those who cannot travel want to help and this is an awesome way to include everyone! Love the school bags! And the dresses :D.

Dylan de Bruin said...

Love it.

Lisa said...

Janel, thank you so much for sharing about Ghana. It is such a gift to be able to see through your eyes how God is working there. I have to admit that I started getting tears reading how you helped 150 children (WOW!) but there were many more children waiting at the door who had to go home empty handed. May God move all of our hearts as believers to be His hands in giving MORE.

Matthew and Jennifer Pitkin said...

Love the before and after photos! This is great, keep posting!!!