I find that in the day-to-day walking with the poor in the city, the compassion which drives me, at times, get buried beneath the sheer number of unsolved problems and complex individuals.
So much so that even the multiple verses that concentrate on serving the poor in scripture seem to lack power and rationality. “The poor you will always have with you” (Mark 14) seems far more reasonable than, “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness”(Isaiah 58)
For the past two weeks I was helping to coordinate a Winter shelter, where every night we shared a meal, played games, and chatted with about 30 homeless men and women. Perhaps this was one experiences that compounded those unfortunate feelings, despite the fun I had there each day.
Yet one of my last nights there, a young girl I’d barely talked to (I can’t say her real name, but we’ll call her “Purpose” because her real name reflects the same meaning.) suddenly wanted to talk, and quickly spilled about her years and years of rape and emotional abuse by family members. She said it had taken away her self-worth and desire to accomplish anything with her life. It had also contributed to some level of schizophrenia and immaturity that can come when one’s mind and body has to learn how to survive such horrific trauma.
Her feelings of hopelessness and lack of true identity that comes from Christ are not unique to her, but a familiar story for countless others that I meet. So we spent time praying for truth to be revealed, restoration in every area of her life, hope, and purpose.
She soon went from tears and confession, to interest in coming to church and finding friends, to bouncing around like a little girl and then shyly rushing off to bed.
Later that night during prayer and worship at my church, I sensed God’s heart for Purpose, and so many others like her; and his deep love for his precious children and our need to see them as he does.
“She is my beautiful child,” was what I felt like God wanted me (and all of us) to know. These are orphans we are to take care of. Feeling and knowing that, I felt a sensitivity restored to my heart that had been clouded in simply getting things done.
Purpose was no longer a statistic or number among the countless poor and sick. Not a problem to be fixed, but God’s treasured daughter. She has purpose, and I don’t believe her name is a coincidence….
At that point, I was truly ready to hit that street that night and engage with the many people who would come to get laundry done and attend our Refuge service on the street. I had a refreshed vision of God’s love for them that meant my time with them mattered.
A friend shared this with me earlier that week, which God probably deposited as a reminder for me in just this time:
“There is a story about a pastor who is ready to call it quits.In driving and talking to God about what troubled him, his feelings of inadequacy, and being overwhelmed with the needs people brought to him as a leader, God spoke to him. He pulled into a Taco Bell drive-thru and a small voice said “open the door. I have a present for you.”
When he opened the door to find a scarred & tarnished penny, he thought “Gee, thanks” as he picked up the penny. Then God spoke again: “In the world’s eyes, the people I’m sending you are like this penny. They are flawed, imperfect, and forgotten. Even churches don’t see much value in wasting time on them. In some eyes, they may look shabby and worthless, but to me, they are just like you, Steve! They’re precious beyond measure!”
Tears streaming down his face, Steve drove home with a better understanding of the incredible value God places on the broken, bothersome, infuriating people we all are.” -Paraphrased from Quick to Listen Leaders by Davy Ping
That Sunday, Purpose joined me for church, got some free flowers which I knew she’d love, and cried throughout worship. The same strong sense of God’s love for her came over me, once again moving me to tears and compelling me to let her know that she’s not forgotten or alone.
I was reminded for the millionth time that one of the joys of serving the poor is that we get to experience God in more profound and intimate ways. The insights and richness of life that came to me through just a few days with Purpose are something I would not trade.
“If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor….” (James 2:3-6)