I have been an advocate for the poor, both the relatively poor of our nation and the desperately poor in the rest of the world, for my entire ministry. There are several reasons why this is so.
First of all, I grew up near poverty. My immediate family was not poor primarily because my dad was in the military. The Navy always provided us with housing, free health care, affordable food and access to decent public schools.
But there were members of my extended family that lived in dire circumstances. I was able to see firsthand the effects of poverty on the human spirit. It does something to a person to have to ask for help from other family members.
It became even worse when government assistance programs put the poor through all kind of humiliating bureaucratic hoops – not to mention the community stigma that attaches itself to public assistance.
But it wasn’t just personal experience that delivered me to this position. My theological training convinced me that God has a bias toward the poor. It’s as if God knows that the cards of social resources are stacked against the weak and the vulnerable.
So God tries to balance the scales by being on the side of the most vulnerable – the biblical widow and orphan. God takes their side. That is one reason Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor,” because he knew God had a special place for them.
I remember reading about a skilled carpenter in the New York area who lost his job during a massive downturn in construction. He lived as long as he could on savings; then he sold his tools in order to live.
Eventually he lost his house and everything else he owned and was forced to live on the streets with his family.
This was a skilled carpenter who wanted to work. But when he would apply for a job, he would often be turned away because he didn’t have an address – and he didn’t have any tools.
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The third reason I advocate for the poor is my travel in the Third World. This is where desperate poverty exists. This is where families live on less than $2 a day.
And while it is frustrating that aid efforts are often thwarted by leaders within those poor countries for their own purposes, it remains the responsibility of those of us who have been so richly blessed to try to find ways to lift their lives out of the despair that is their daily reality.
To whom much is given, Jesus said, much is required.
All of this was driven home to me during a recent illness. For the past week, I have been suffering from a severe upper GI infection. I have not been able to take solid foods for over a week. Fruit bars, broth and Jell-O have been my mainstay.
I have been constantly hungry. I cannot remember ever experiencing hunger like this in my life. And this is with some nutrient supplements.
I found myself wondering what it must be like to have no access to protein or bread, day after day. My brief experience with hunger was merely illuminating. For many in our world, it is a way of life.
When you are hungry, food becomes what you think about all the time. Or to say it the way Gandhi said it, “To a hungry person, food is God.”
I can sort of understand now how that happens.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.