I’m struggling because I want to tell you everything–all of the sights, smells, sounds, and turmoil. There’s not time or space for that, neither is there time for a chronological recounting of each day. If you give me the better part of an hour and a cup of tea, I’ll gladly give you the highlights of the week. My mom knows how to understand Grace-at-high-speed, so she probably got more details in that hour than a normal person, but it still was insufficient to capture all that I saw and all that God did in the space of one week. Begging your pardon in advance, here’s an attempt:
For one week, I was forced to stare into the eyes of poverty. I felt the weight, the ugliness, the pain, the longing, and a hunger in my soul to make something right. But, contrary to what I expected, the majority of that uncomfortable confrontation was looking into my own personal poverty. The root of poverty is sin. Whether it’s corrupt governments, selfish choices, or destructive relationships, sin is always at the core. The world is broken. The Fall was absolutely tragic. Things are no longer right between man and God, man and others, man and creation, and even man’s relationship with self. Poverty cannot be extinguished until sin is dealt with because mankind is spiritually impoverished. You’re probably thinking, didn’t Grace know this already? It’s almost a “duh.” But truthfully, I needed to see physical poverty in light of spiritual poverty, to see my proper place as a minister of reconciliation.
Usually, in an effort to avoid an awkward encounter with this tangible problem, I would do something sporadic like volunteer at a soup kitchen and hope to alleviate the guilt of not doing enough. As a problem-solver, it would plague me because I wanted to fix it–there had to be an answer! We have enough money, right? We have enough food, right? I’m sure it’s just a matter of allocating resources or getting people mobilized. Then, I would carry the weight of it for a while and finally give up because it was too big. This week forced me into realizing that people are ultimately in need of the Reconciler. This is their greatest need.
But, that’s not a license for neglecting their physical needs. Payton is constantly mentioning how many times God expresses his heart for the widow, the orphan, the needy, the oppressed. –Okay, I’m about to get all verbally and theologically tied in knots if I try to get in any further at this point. See, I told you I’d have a hard time getting this all out. I hope you catch what I’m trying to say.–Personally, I can say that prior to a month ago, I didn’t see sin as the root of all types of poverty, which caused me to try to fix a humanly unsolvable problem, disabling me to an extent. Understanding more about spiritual poverty helped me to see people as collectively in the same boat. I am in need or reconciliation too! This in turn helps me to see how I can physically meet people’s needs as an avenue toward spiritual reconciliation.
There’s tons more where that came from, but I can already see I’ve cluttered the page. But, despite my ramblings here, the group who facilitated our trip did an incredible job of digging down to the root of poverty and helping us to begin to face our own. We heard from homeless men and women about the reality of life on the streets, spent time serving food at local shelters, ministered to the needs of the community by fixing up yards and cleaning alleys, and held a Bible club and community bbq in the park. One of the neat things about this ministry is that was directly connected to a local church, therefore enabling all of our efforts in the neighborhoods to be sustainable because when we’d leave, there was a permanent presence still in the community.
Okay, and the part you’re all wondering about, our final 44 hours. We spent those hours on the streets, homeless. It was a planned simulation that had tasks and things for us to experience, but really allowed the raw-ness of life to teach us about ourselves and the reality of poverty. The most poignant moment for me was standing in line outside of a rescue mission with hundreds of other hungry people as gallons of rain fell, drenching us all and making it all very personal. That was when it became real and heavy for me. I had an hour to think. God let it sink in. Mankind was so far from the Garden of Eden. The brokenness was so clear–it was as shocking as the thunder and lightning that terrifyingly danced over us that late afternoon. Men were sitting on the ground, waiting for a meal, drenched in hopelessness, knowing they were going to be sleeping in the cold and wet. This moment, wracked with human desperation, was also burned in Payton’s mind. I had never been more thankful for a meal in a warm place, but also never been so sad.
If you want to hear all of the details, you’ll have to ask me in person so that I don’t spoil it for those who might do it in the future. 🙂
I also learned an amazing bit about community, which I’ll probably write more about later.