Here is a sneak peek at my sermon for this morning!
There is no doubt, God calls us into mission. Throughout the Old Testament, the Jewish people created laws to prevent poverty. In the New Testament Christ comes to model what mission to the poor should look like. Through the church, we are asked to serve by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service. There are numerous different forms of service and mission (as I talked about last time I preached) and everyone is called to serve in a way they are passionate about. But what is poverty and what is the purpose of mission to those in poverty?
I want to give you a situation to think about during the sermon. We will come back to it at the end of the sermon. The church you attend is located in a community where the people live in shacks. They have no access to clean water, and the closest medical clinic is a two-hour walk. None of the children in the community have shoes and their clothes are torn and barely fit. The adults spend their days digging through the trash or sitting on the side of the road begging for money. You learn none of the children attend school and not a single adult in the community can read or write. Illness plagues most of the community due to no clean water. As Christian, with you church located in this community, you feel called to serve, but what do you do?
The first place I want to start is with the question “What is poverty?” Poverty, in the dictionary, is the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions. However, poverty is not just the lack of material possession but one can also be in spiritual, psychological, educational, and emotional poverty. Poverty is engulfed in a system and is usually a symptom of something that is much deeper. Much like a cough is the body’s response to something else, poverty is a symptom of something else. In Luke 5:17-26 we see Jesus healing the problem of sin, before the symptoms of the paralytic.
17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. 18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. 20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” 21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” Jesus tells us that healing the paralyzed man so he can walk is the easy part. Forgiving sins is what he truly needs.
Mission is the church’s response to poverty. It is how Christ calls us to care for His people. However, Christ does not call us to help symptoms, He calls us to help the underlying problem. Mission, or the response to the problem, can also be divided into different levels of help based on the needs of those you are serving. The first is emergency assistance. Emergency assistance is just what it says. In an emergency you assist. It is like putting a Band-Aid on a wound or helping clean up after an earthquake or hurricane. You are responding to the emergency and the needs of the people due to that emergency.
The second is restoration. Restoration teaches the person how they can function even with a Band-Aid on their wound. Restoration my come in the years after an emergency, once the emergency is over and helping the people restore their lives back to normalcy. It may also be needed in a community lacking resources like water, education, or even spiritual drought. It is restoring the people to a place that they can be successful.
The third is the hardest level to work in but the most important. The third level is empowerment and looks to the future. It removes the band-aid and focuses on what the person can accomplish with or without the wound. It teaches people how to better their own lives as well as the lives around them. It focuses on independency, teaching the community, the people, resources so they can continue growing. Many of you may know the saying, Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day (emergency assistance). Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a life-time (restoration). I recently heard the next part: Teach a man to problem solve, and when the lakes become contaminated he will problem solve to eat (empowerment).
God calls us to serve in all three areas of mission. But I believe God calls us to serve with understanding of the underlying problem. You can not “fix” everything with a band-aid. As some point you have to take the band-aid off. Mission, regardless of what type of mission you are doing, is a process. That is why it is so important to the pastor and I to connect the church members with the missionaries. You all live in the communities in which we work and understand the people in a way we can not. It is impossible for missionaries to understand the people, their culture, and their individual needs without your help. If the church does work alongside the missionaries, there is no reason for the missionaries to come. We must work together as one body to empower the communities in which we serve.
A great example of working together came this week from Monique, the teacher working with Kendys in the school. Monique and I went out and bought various items needed to set up the school. When we showed Kendys what we bought she told us we couldn’t use this container. We looked at this purple container and saw a plastic purple container to hold food and let the children play with it. As many of you all know and as I learned, Dominicans would never put food in it or let kids play with it because culturally it is used to go to the bathroom. Missionaries need the people of the church to help in the areas that we know nothing or even worse, we think we know but we are very wrong.
Poverty must be understood and relationships must be made. Lets go back to our story of the community outside the church. Let me read it again:
The church you attend is located in a community where the people live in shacks. They have no access to clean water, and the closest medical clinic is a two-hour walk. None of the children in the community have shoes and their clothes are torn and barely fit. The adults spend their days digging through the trash or sitting on the side of the road begging for money. Any money they received, they buy alcohol to drink instead of food for them and their children. You learn none of the children attend school and not a single adult in the community can read or write. Illness plagues most of the community.
The church enters the community and after a week sees children with no shoes and are hungry. A natural response is to purchase shoes and pass out food. However, these are symptoms to a much bigger problem. The church feels good about helping but what they do not see is the adults sell the kid’s shoes for money and do not worry about saving money or time to prepare food for their children. They now expect the church to provide food for their children daily. The church’s next project is to help the sick. They bring in doctors and pass out medicine to the entire community. The people are thankful and the sickness is gone….for a month. Again, the sickness is a symptom to a bigger problem. They do not have access to clean water. After consuming contaminated water, the people return to being sick. The church’s next response is to build a school for the children. After 3 years of construction, the school opens and the children come but miss many days of school. Many drop out after a few months. The symptom might have been illiteracy, but the problem runs so much deeper. The children are sick often due to no clean water and many of them drop out because they have no birth certificate. Without a birth certificate, they cannot finish school so what is the point of starting. The older kids are also needed to beg for money or work to help the family.
Only through relationship do you find the underlying problem. And only through loving as Christ loved, can we see what God wants us to see. Poverty is complicated, it is deeply rooted, and it is dirty work but it is also where God resides. God calls us to look at the heart of His children as see what He sees. He calls us to look for their assets and not their limitations. When God called David, the world saw a scrawny shepherd not worth much, but God saw a righteous king. The world saw Moses as a murder but God saw a great leader. The world saw fisherman, tax collectors, and prostitutes, but Jesus saw disciples. As Christians we must look for what God sees. Go back to our community: What do you see? Leaders, businessmen, nurses, doctors, cooks, architects, teachers? God is already there working. Look for what God is already doing and start there. Look for strengths not weaknesses. Consider the people you are serving as equals or possibly superior in knowledge that simply need a friend to listen and someone to show them were God is already present and working in their lives. Empowering someone to feed their family goes so much further than passing out food. Empowering someone to go to school can change an entire generation. In cases of emergency, assist. In cases of restoration, restore. In relationships, empower.