Poor and the Sick
For this week's thort I am going to be using
an article written by a South African guy Tom Smith which he wrote
for Relevant Magazine which is a really good online site that has
many challenging and encouraging articles and other stuff and can
be found at www.relevantmagazine.com - those of you who know me
know that I want one of the t-shirts mentioned! Oh yes, I do. Trust
you are well challenged. Sam G, I know you'll dig this one! Love
you! THE EXPERIMENT - by Tom Smith
I love experiments. A few years ago I
wore my Jabez T-shirt in Colorado Springs. It said, "I prayed the prayer of Jabez for
thirty days and the only thing I got was this lousy shirt." The
reactions I got were truly amazing. Some people were furious while
others thanked me.
A few weeks ago I embarked on another one of my ventures. The
laboratory I chose was the local Christian bookstores in Johannesburg,
South Africa. The experiment was really simple; I would browse
the store in search of books on helping the poor and fighting AIDS.
After I saw a million, `Here's how to use Jesus to make you more
successful' titles, I would then ask the sales clerk or manager
if they stock books about helping the hurting and helpless.
The first store's clerk looked confused
when I asked the question, and the manager intervened and said, "If
you find a book on the subject you should immediately buy it."
Two days later I took my science to a
bookstore in another mall. I walked in with one of my seventeen
year old friends, who happened to be someone who was on the receiving
end of apartheid. I asked the clerk if they had books on poverty
or AIDS. Nothing could have prepared me for the answer she gave
me. "No sir, this is a
religious bookstore. I think you should try the secular bookstore
around the corner."
In utter shock I asked her if she didn't think that helping the
poor or sick had anything to do with religion. I only got a blank
stare. Now it's easy to harp on this poor girl but to tell you
the truth, if you asked me the same question a few years ago, I
probably would have had the same confused look, and I'm a pastor!
I often wonder why I never made the link between my relationship
with Christ and my responsibility towards people who suffer and
In December of 2003 a few of us planted
a community in South Africa called Kleipot Gemeente (Afrikaans
for Clay Pot Community). For almost two years now we've been
reading through the gospels. The pattern emerging from Jesus'
rhythms is one of an unmistakable identification with the poor,
the sick and the marginalized. In the light of our Leader's actions
we had to ask ourselves some difficult questions. Perhaps the
most revealing question, "Do
our lives in community reflect the same concern Jesus showed for
the poor and sick?" The answer for us was a resounding "NO." We
started praying; asking God to open the eyes of our hearts.
We live in a world with immense pain and poverty, a fact that's
portrayed by knee-numbing and guilt-inducing statistics. As followers
of Jesus we have to remember that behind every statistic there's
a person who's loved by God, someone created in the image of our
Lord. Our prayer was that God would reveal to us the faces and
stories of people who are only represented on paper with a numerical
David was the statistic that became flesh for me; he's a pastor
who's ministering in an extremely poor village. David became one
of my good friends. We've spent hours trading stories, eating together
and laughing. I've learned a lot from my friendship with David.
Hanging with David and his wife teaches me a lot about the absolute
abundance I live in. Instead of always increasing our standard
of living, their lives challenge us to give away the excess. Knowing
them has been life changing. When David and Shandu eat in our house
I'm always introduced to those key principles of abundance, needs
and equality Paul refers to in chapter 8 of his second letter to
Most of us have friendships with people
who are just like us: usually the same color, the same socio-economical
class and with similar interests. We also have this propensity
to think of ourselves as `not that rich'. I have a friend who
works in Mozambique—a
few months ago I referred to myself as a middleclass South African,
and he told me that I'm not middleclass, but rich. Compared to
the rest of South Africa and our brothers and sisters throughout
the world, I am stinking rich. You probably are too.
The girl in the bookstore is at the start
of her journey—I
don't want to judge her—but I think we all need to ask ourselves
some tough questions about our lifestyles. Have we made the connection
that Jesus' message calls us to relate to those that the world
Matthew 25:41-43 has always haunted me.
Jesus says to a group of people to depart from Him because, "I
was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and
you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not
invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was
sick and in prison and you did not look after me."
When I told one of my friends about my experiment in the bookstore
he responded that there was a great book on the topic of poverty
and helping people with AIDS in those bookstores.
It's the Bible.
I think we need to ask God to open our eyes towards those who
are less fortunate. When God shows us someone in need, we need
to respond, not as a superior, but as a humble servant in the name
of Christ. It's a connection we simply have to make.
I was thinking about this this morning before I compiled this
thort and decided this challenge needed to be added.
The question he poses in this article: "Do our lives in community
reflect the same concern Jesus showed for the poor and sick?" needs
to be asked about the congregation that you attend. If your church
does not have some kind of outward focus in terms of the poor and
sick, then I think you are missing the point. If that is the case
then I would encourage you to speak to the leadership of the church
and ask about it (maybe there is stuff happening that you are not
aware of) and see what what you can get started if there is nothing
happening. But if it continues to be that way, then I think you
should seriously consider moving on to another church that is involved
in that kind of stuff.
It has to begin with each of us examining our own hearts of course.
Hard to point fingers with the plank wedged firmly in my eye. So
what am I doing with regard to the poor and the sick? And then
move on from there.
May God convict you through His Spirit where necessary and align
your heart more and more to His. May you be part of a Christian
fellowship that is actively involved in uplifting the community
where you are and being light and salt to a world in desperate
need of Jesus.