A village in Senegal where I sponsor a little girl.
What will keep you from doing much good — is caring too much what others think.
Confession: I love Ann Voskamp’s blog. Her writing is exquisite and profound and God has used her countless times to speak into my life.
This post—while marvelous—was also convicting. Ann sponsors children through Compassion International; I sponsor children through World Vision. (Danger, Will Robinson—I talk about World Vision a LOT. And on this blog, I will likely talk about poverty a lot.) Both are Christian humanitarian organizations and although their modus operandi are some different, both do fabulous work to help poor kids all over the world.
But the last couple of years, I’ve been selfishly preoccupied. I’ve been in school and coping with various other issues and I haven’t been writing to my girls, with the exception of the World-Vision generated holiday and birthday cards (for which right now I am extraordinarily grateful).
As any parent knows (or in my case, any non-parent), kids need more than money: kids need love. They need interaction and prayer and emotional support and while I can’t guarantee all of that through a short letter, I can sure do better than I have been.
Some of these kids have parents; some of them don’t. Some are being raised by single mothers; some have lost parents and siblings to AIDS. All of them are living in a world infested with poverty, a world that tells them there is no hope for their future, a world that tells them they don’t matter, that no one cares. Poverty is not just an economic condition—it is also a spiritual and emotional condition. Poverty is the absence of hope. Poverty is the absence of Christ.
A recent billboard campaign said it well: “The opposite of love is indifference.”
So last night I sat down at the computer and pecked out an introductory letter to my most recent sponsored child. Her name is Shamaila and she lives in Bangladesh. She is just starting first grade and she is beautiful and she has her whole life ahead of her, and she lives in a country where children are sold every day by parents who cannot afford to take care of them, sold into slavery by the predators who always circle the poor like hyenas around a dying carcass.
Because the truth is, the poor are dying. Thousands every day, most of them children. When you are a single mother and you cannot find enough food even for one more meal and your children are sick and malnourished, you walk up to a rich Westerner (as recently happened in Haiti) and you say, “Take one. You pick. Just feed her.” (See The Hole in Our Gospel.) When you are a mother who cannot even feed your own children, you will do anything—sacrifice anything—to get help for them.
Often, we like to respond with the usual Western responses: “They shouldn’t have that many children if they can’t afford to feed them!” Or, “That’s their government’s responsibility!” But these comments do nothing to address the problem. They only serve to mitigate our guilt at our own apathy. Women in developing countries often do not have a choice about either sex or birth control. Do we really think they don’t know the challenges in their own lives? Are we really so far away from our own family-planning issues in this country that we feel we have the right to condemn those who still do not have those options? Are we really willing to let children starve while governments dither?
What the poor have are resources, buried in those children. A future and a hope in every single pair of eyes staring out of those child picture folders. A life that is precious to God—and a life that has a purpose.
The question isn’t, should the poor be helped? (The Bible answers that with an unqualified and emphatic yes, going so far as to tell us that we do not belong to God if we do not love the poor.) The question is, are we willing to invest in God’s call to help His children rise above their circumstances? To help them get a foothold on the bottom rung of the ladder so they can start climbing? Are we willing to reach beyond our own comfort to give comfort and hope to those who have none? Are we willing to look at that dirty or emaciated or angry child in the photo and let God show us the healthy, happy and productive teacher, minister or scientist buried within?
Are we willing to risk loving the way God does?
We know how God loves—with a cross. With His own blood, poured out in the dust for us.
It doesn’t get much riskier than that.
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. —James 2:15-17