The Worst Kind of Poverty

As I anticipate heading back to the states, I find myself redefining what poverty means to me.  We have met some of what many would call the “poorest of the poor” these last few days.  Many of these people live in conditions that would be unacceptable to us and have little chance of any significant improvement in their standard of living.

At the Casa Del Migrante, I became acquainted with many men who have no home, no job, have lost their family and have dismal prospects for their future.  They have been completely uprooted from home, family and job.  If they are unable to find a place to live, get settled and get established somewhere new, they will be stuck where they are.

For some, the longing for family will drive them to despair.  For others, yearning for those whom they love will propel them towards a better economic future.  Their hope is to make enough money to be able to go home.  They will find a way to get back to their family and their life.  They will do whatever it takes to be with people they love, be a productive member of society and experience a new passion for life that is forged in the trials of today.

These men are not poor.  They are very rich in love, integrity and, as I have discovered, faith.  They have discovered what is truly important and have decided they will do everything in their power to be faithful to their family and to God regardless of the consequences.

For the first two nights I had dinner at the Casa, the migrants were not told that we were a group of pastors.  When they looked across the table at me, all they saw was a white guy who was there with them and kind to them, even if he didn’t speak a lick of Spanish.  Thankfully, most knew enough English for us to communicate, but even when language was a barrier, we were able to understand each other enough to make a connection.

Sitting at dinner with many of the deportees, I was the one who got to listen to a sermon.  They taught me about life and what’s most important.  Three different men, after telling their story, pointed to heaven and gave God the credit for who they were.  Even though they were down on luck, their faith far outweighed what they didn’t have in earthly terms.

This reminded me of what the psalmist wrote:

O Lord, open my lips,

and my mouth will declare your praise.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;

you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:15-17, ESV)

The people I have spent time with have been broken.  They have been taken to the bottom and found God there.  He was always there for them, but they have discovered a deeper love and stronger faith than many will come to know in this life because of what they’ve been through.

It would be too easy for us to look down on them because of what they don’t have in terms of money or position or legal residency status.  But that belies a proud heart and a haughty spirit which God despises.  Instead of looking down on them we should look at them as dearly loved children of God, most of whom are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

God has taught me a lesson about true riches through their stories.  He has reminded me that His Son gave up His throne in glory to become the least of these.  Jesus was homeless, illegal, despised and rejected by the rulers and most of the people of His day.  He bore the scorn of a people nobody wanted so that He could taste their pain.  He descended to earth to pick them up by redeeming them with His precious blood.  Because of what Jesus has done for them, they have more value than you or I could ever fully comprehend.

God has also reminded me of His love for me by forgiving me for attitudes towards immigrants that don’t always reflect the love He has for them.  He hasn’t given up on me when I have given up on others without even realizing it.  He has given me this week to grow in my relationship with Him by getting to know His heart for the poor in this context.

It is humbling to know that I am powerless to lift these people out of poverty.  It is refreshing to know that I don’t have to.  God has already given these people riches that many will never know.

The worst kind of poverty is not material, it is spiritual.  It is a poverty that doesn’t know the love of God through the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.  Those who are most impoverished don’t care about the plight of others because they don’t know truly unconditional love themselves.

We cannot give that which we have not already received ourselves.  If you find your heart going out to those less fortunate than yourself and seek to love them because God first loved you, count yourself among the richest of these.  If you have the capacity to love, you have already been granted riches in Christ beyond imagination!

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12, ESV)

 

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