The Poor Will Always Be With Us

One thing I’ve learned since leaning into my work at Children’s Relief International is God is very clear that the poor will always be with us

Poverty is a condition that rifles generations, leaving its mark for decades and decades to come.  People are oppressed by other people, by government, by natural disasters, by location, birth status, religious belief, illness, the list goes on.  But God says,

“Open your hands freely and give.”


I’ve always had an inclination toward the poor.  There is something in me that sees the hurting, the desolate eyes of the oppressed, and cries out in righteous indignation insisting that something must be done.  But I had to go on a 20+ year journey to discover God’s purpose behind my heart.

I didn’t grow up poor.  In fact, I grew up in a very comfortable, middle-class, white family in a white suburban neighborhood in farmlands and beauty and wealth.  My mom stayed at home and home-schooled me and my younger brother.  My dad worked a normal 9-5 and came home to a prepared meal every evening.  My childhood was rosy—full of exploration, friendship, and safety.  I didn’t have a care in the world, and I am thankful.

As I grew, some of the deepest wounds of the world began to creep into my own safe sphere.  I went on mission trips; I saw poverty.  I overheard racism at school and learned about the long and harrowing history of oppression.  I wanted to believe that people were better than that.  I thought I was…

I set out for college still with rose-colored glasses half on.  But as I wrestled through my own beliefs about people, God, and the purpose of our very creation, the glasses fell off.  I witnessed the full and complete brokenness that characterizes our world; and I was distraught.

As I’ve grown older still, I’ve begun to see that my distress is exactly what the God of our universe feels when He looks down upon us and the wreckage we’ve made of this beautiful life.

But, He has known forever that this is how we, His children, would be.  And so, in Deuteronomy, He lays out the law for us to care for one another. He hopes that as our glasses fall from our lofty noses, we too will be overwhelmed by the injustices we see—and take action.

It still took me some time.  After college, I was in love with a certain boy from the Midwest and I followed him out there.  I moved from the rigors of the left-leaning Northeast to the conservative, quiet Southern Midwest.  I was challenged by a new kind of ignorance.  God was real to these people too, but their sphere was perhaps even tinier than the one I had grown up in.  There was something so limited from outside experience, so boxed-in from diversity of any kind.  

Sean and I got engaged in January of 2014, and I quickly told him of my desire to follow God’s leading to teach in an impoverished country.  I needed my purpose to be bold.  But as I soon discovered, my boldness didn’t translate into ease.  I battled through that year, full of tears, frustration, and confusion.  

Why didn’t my good intentions seem to matter to the people I served?  Why couldn’t they see the sacrifice I’d made and the impact I was trying to have? 


It wasn’t working.

But it was.  God was working.  He was showing me that His plan is not for all of the pain of the world to be fixed, but for my heart, for our hearts to become “bent” toward the suffering.  That is where the change really is.

Another year later, I finally began to see it.  Maybe this is when my glasses really fell off.  I barely scraped across the finish line of another school year in Dallas before I collapsed.  I couldn’t give any more.  And when I was at my most broken, my most lost, God finally picked me up and set me in the direction that pointed perfectly towards Him.

Children’s Relief International put all the pieces into place.  My inclination for the poor, my heart for the oppressed, my resolve toward change, my eyes for the world.  It is here that I see God working.  My job, every day, is to tell the stories of the needy and the oppressed.  My job is to be the defender of the defenseless, the giver to the broken, the lifeline to the lost.

As I touch the stories of children who grow up working alongside their mothers in rock quarries as near slaves or without parents digging through trash piles for a scrap to eat, I am blasted back to that perfect idealistic childhood I lived.  There is no justice here.  But, I must hold to the promise that there is justice for the oppressed:

“He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.” –Deuteronomy 10:18

“May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!” –Psalm 72:4

God does have a plan.

In the here and now, our purpose is not to change the world or to relieve all the suffering.  Jesus already did that. 

Our purpose is to let our hearts be changed.  To open our hands and give freely, as the Giver of Life has given to us!


What a high call that is!

Our calling as image-bearers of the King of Kings is to give generously.  It is to hear the cry of the downtrodden and offer them care.  It is to devote our lives selflessly to expressing the love of the Most High God to all who can feel it.

I lean into this calling at CRI with joy because it is this that I am privileged to do every day.  God has carefully brought me through experience after experience to teach me this very thing: 

the poor will always be with you, so open your hands freely and give.

In the World, Not Of It

lovingourcity

Through the twists and turns of life, God has brought me to work in a clinic for people who have limited access to healthcare in Collin County. Hundreds of families come through every month because life has hit them hard at some point or another.

In this rapidly growing metroplex, I see hidden, expansive pockets of poverty on a daily basis. My patients include the single mom working two jobs in the shadows of restaurant kitchens. They are the white collar worker who got laid off and hasn’t been able to land another job in the past year. They are the unseen employee working for 10 hour shifts without breaks or workers’ rights. They are enduring laborers on construction sites in the unforgiving summer Texas heat.

Recently, God kept bringing one story to mind – a patient who had a sore throat for an entire year. It turns out they had strep pharyngitis, which is easily diagnosed and treatable with penicillin. We live in a first-world country and a person in our affluent city had strep for an entire year. AN ENTIRE YEAR.

Over the past three weeks, I have been buzzing with indignant anger when God brings this story to mind, and God kept pushing me to write about it. My mind goes fuzzy when I want to remind myself of some key Bible verses that speak of raising up the poor but I realized God doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t want us cherry picking through the living Word so we can justify our anger. He has already written an arc of a story that resonates and shakes of His unchanging feelings about injustice and oppression. He’s already been sitting with us in our mess since our fall from Paradise.

I’ve dug through all the reasons why my patient had strep throat for a year and found a mountain of seemingly unforgivable trespasses — to blame my patient for not trying harder, for their life choices, and every political/social/religious institution that failed them. Aren’t these our defense mechanisms when we want to pardon ourselves from listening to God in these complicated situations?

If we forget that we have all been a lost sinner in a desert place, shackled to chains of sin, we will all forget that we have been rescued by the grace and mercy that God freely offered us. With this spiritual amnesia, we will feel it appropriate to dangle our righteousness over those who have less than us. We will sit on our air conditioned, middle-to-upper class thrones and point fingers at everyone who has made a mistake, cheated on a test, crossed a border, stolen a candy bar, had a lustful thought, followed through with an abortion, acted in anger, saying that we know best about political rules and religious laws that keep society in check.

However, because God has rescued me from slavery AND the desert place AND death, numerous times over, I am called to a different life marked by grace, at the foot of HIS throne. HIS cross. My soul remembers love.

Then, my mind is jarred back into all that continues to bombard my mind throughout the whole day. News about suffering friends and family, injustice, death, oppression, shootings, wars, poverty here and abroad. 85% of the time my body is tired. My mind is battered. Weekly, my soul numbs out before it realizes it needs living water. I can go through an 8-hour clinic day checking lab results and prescriptions, treadmilling through the schedule of 30-minute clinic appointments without acknowledging God’s heartbeat in the person sitting across from me. How do we process and contain, grieve and feel, amidst the pressures we have to sustain throughout the day?

A mentor recently told me, “If we did what God wanted us to do for the day, we would have enough time. If we try to fit in everything we want to accomplish on our own along with what God wants us to accomplish, we’ll always run out of time.”

In the 15% of days when I actually rest in Jesus and only do what He calls me to, I can more readily engage in our culture with God’s Spirit and Power. I grasp the concept that our decisions, political opinions, theologies, and actions are not the end goal — rather, all of history and nature long to speak for God’s persistent story of love (Romans 8 comes to mind).

So I share the following tangible steps and encouragements as Gospel light amidst our daily struggle of sin in a fallen world.

Remember and confess

Remember that you were redeemed from the filth of sin, and that God continues to do so. Although we do not live in condemnation, we remember we have not earned any of what God has given us. Receive God’s dance of grace and mercy for yourself first, then you’ll have enough to give others.

Practice the Sabbath

Keep taking rest from all that is loud and unrelenting in the world for at least a 24-hour period every week. God might be telling you to pull back from constantly being plugged into the news or social media.

Prayer

However, God might be asking you to keep reading the news, bringing every headline to Him in those moments. When someone intercedes for me or when God reminds me to just BE with Him, it awakes a part of my soul that gives me sustenance for the next minute, the next hour, the next day. Keep that line of communication open with Jesus – even if it might include despair, grief, confusion, doubt. He has suffered it all and in seasons, He gives us new light through prayer.

My exhortation is that prayer doesn’t stop there. I believe God uses these prayers so that grace can spill out to the oppressed in our communities. As much as the world is spinning into an unsalvageable mess, Jesus’ death and resurrection proclaims that He has boundless amounts of love to salvage it. No question. It’s there already; we just have to be listening.

He is calling you out of apathy to serve the poor, the widow, the orphan.

He is asking you to pause and give a listening ear to a coworker who is oppressed in their own lives.

He is beckoning you to stop feeling condemnation for not ‘doing’ enough.

He is giving you the strength to fight apathy and learn compassion.

Every time we speak up for someone who is oppressed, love the unlovable, vote in an election, make the extra effort to pursue our spouses, or teach our children well, the world sees our missionality and an alternative to living in the ways of the world. Because of you, brothers and sisters, unbelievers see that God has an expansive heart for human beings, made in his image, in any given sociopolitical issue. They see that we are not apathetic and isolated just because we have an eternal heaven waiting for us. They see that our faith brings about hope for God’s kingdom here on Earth. They see that Jesus’ love for us begets more love.