Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Imagine Being Trapped in Poverty

Image yourself as a woman in her mid-30s. You grew up in a volatile home. Your mother verbally and physically abused you. Your father abandoned you. Your grandfather raped you. When your mother found out, she kicked you out of the house at age 15. You never finished school. You went from one abusive man to another. You went from one low-paying job to another. You went from one drug to another. You lost your children along the way.

Imagine yourself as a 12-year old boy living in a low-income apartment complex. Your mother left you when you were small, because of her emotional problems. Your father has had trouble keeping a job ever since an accident precipitated an addiction to prescription medication and alcohol. You are afraid to leave your apartment for school. You are threatened by bullies and enticed by gang members. On your way to school this morning, you stepped around a man in a wheel chair who had been beaten by thugs who stole the little money he had. You did nothing, because you were afraid that the wrong people may see you stopping to help. You don't do well in school, because you are hungry and you have too much on your mind to worry about grades.

Imagine yourself as an infant with Down's syndrome who was born to a prostitute. You are the youngest of seven siblings. Your brothers and sister run wild, because your mother cannot even gain control of her own life; she has no chance of providing stability to her household. You are not likely to ever know your father. Who knows what kind of difficulties you will face as you grow up?

What can anyone do to help you? Can you be helped? Is your life hopeless?

Life is not hopeless.

Christians and churches can make a difference in the lives of the poor in at least three important ways.

1. Christians and churches can preach the gospel to the poor. In general, the poor are open to the fact that they are sinners living in a sinful world. They understand the depths of sin. They know what it means to be both victims and those who victimize others. They have been sinned against and they have sinned. They tend to recognize their need for forgiveness, a new life, and hope. They tend to be open to the possibility that the Bible's message is true and that Jesus Christ can provide them with forgiveness, new life, and hope. The message of Christ can make a tremendous difference in their lives.

2. Christians and churches can meet immediate physical needs. Those needs may be for food, clothing, employment, or shelter. Churches can hold cookouts at the local public housing apartment complexes. Congregations can provide donuts for breakfast before Sunday school and a meal after worship assemblies. Christians can take meals to those who unable to leave their apartments because of health reasons. They can take others out to lunch or dinner. They can take a load of groceries to a family in need. They can network with others to find jobs for those who are looking for work. The possibilities are nearly endless.

3. Christians and churches can mentor the poor. If you had grown up in circumstances faced by many poor people, you probably would not have a clue as to how to handle life's challenges. Could you be a good father, husband, mother, wife, or employee without a good role model? It would be extremely difficult without a godly mentor to help you along the way. The Great Commission has not been accomplished when a new disciple is baptized. We are instructed to follow up with new believers by "teaching them to observe all that (Jesus Christ has) commanded you" (Matthew 28:20). A variety of methods may be used, such as: men's Bible studies at a weekly breakfast, women's Bible studies over lunch, parenting classes, and (most importantly) sharing our lives together as friends who can come to each other with our problems.

Poverty seems like an overwhelming problem, but God has empowered his people with the resources and ability to make a positive difference in seemingly hopeless situations.


reborn1995 said...

This is great stuff. But what do you do when you have a congregation full of suburbanites who don't want to touch a "bad" neighborhood with a ten foot pole and believe they're completely justified in avoiding all things/people "sketchy"-looking?


Terry said...

Thanks, Guy. You raised a difficult question to answer. Nearly 10 years ago, we were in a church in which the youth went on a mission trip to inner-city Houston. They came back and reported their experiences with a great deal of enthusiasm. Soon, the leaders of our congregation decided to participate in a new urban ministry started by a sister congregation in Tulsa. They gave us opportunities to get involved. Also, one of our Bible teachers led a Wednesday night class based on the book "Up Close and Personal: Embracing the Poor" by Harold Shank, Anthony Wood and Ron Burgeron. Eventually, that urban ministry developed into the Contact Church of Christ.

So, perhaps a mission trip similar to our youth's mission trip could spark an interest in the congregation. Also, I highly recommend the book "Up Close and Personal: Embracing the Poor" as a text for a Bible class. It not only motivates; it provides some good theology and practical suggestions for urban ministry. Finally, if your congregation would be interested in learning more about the Contact Church's ministry, our ministers travel with some of our members to different congregations in the state to tell our congregation's story and to encourage others to become involved. You can find information about contacting our ministers at Thanks for your encouraging words and your interest in doing something similar!