I think that true compassion for our poor brothers and sisters around the world begins with the willingness to be with them. Think about the people you know who advocate most ardently and give most generously to downtrodden people around the world. Haven’t they usually spent time abroad, developing real relationships with people in need? Of course! And even more, they have been willing to take on some measure of poverty themselves, in order to experience what it’s like to live with less.
While Jordan and I were traveling, we found that we were at our most genuinely generous when we were living congruently with the people we were serving. For example, we decided when we arrived in Rwanda that we would make a habit of rejecting public transit. Instead, we would walk — everywhere — because that’s what the street boys did. Most days, this wasn’t easy. The last thing I wanted to do was to walk up and down those long dusty streets to get to my tutoring appointments. But, because I did, I had more compassion on the boys when they asked me to pay their bus fare. In fact, I leapt gladly at the opportunity to do so, because I knew what it felt like to walk miles in broken sandals.
Recently, three brave women from our congregation flew to Thailand to be with some of our brothers and sisters abroad. They traded the familiar comfort of home for overwhelming heat, dungy prison cells, and just a bit more poverty than they’re used to encountering at home. And, by all their reports, they were moved to compassion by it. They told me they will not forget the “baby girl whose mother had just been baptized, the 10 year old boy with thread-bare socks who loudly sang “Praise ye the Lord” into the microphone, the toddler, hospitalized with a fever and infection, whose mother received our gifts and our prayers, and the young boy with the shy smile who accepted ice cream from behind the bars of the prison cell.” And though there were moments that the service was difficult and uncomfortable, they agree that the time spent in Pattaya was “such a delight and privilege to be a part of,” and an experience that will not soon be forgotten: “And then the thought that never really leaves us: what about all the other children in that city, in that country? What can be done? Who’s going to do it?” For Janice, Meg, and Hilary, the time spent in Pattaya was a “fresh revelation of God’s faithfulness,” and “a reminder to be more thankful for the comforts of Canada.”
These women are an inspiration to me — taking uncomfortable steps, even in their maturity, to experience life alongside the poor. And, being willing to let that experience challenge and change them. I think we should all look for ways to dwell among the poor. Whether that means signing up for a short-term missions trip, volunteering your time at a refugee centre like Micah House, or giving up some of the comforts that you hold dear to experience what it’s like to have less.
Dwelling with the poor is something we do because Jesus did it first. He became flesh and made his dwelling among us; He who, being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering. And, He continues each day to meet us in our poverty. As we impersonate Christ by dwelling with our brothers and sisters in need around the world, may we taste what Jesus meant in saying “Blessed are the poor.”
Please continue the conversation by sharing about an experience you’ve had dwelling with the poor. How did that experience change you? Are there any practices you’ve taken up that help you to dwell more closely with the poor in your every day life?