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: