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Poverty

The youth pastor volunteered my services, so I showed up. My task was to babysit two young boys while their single mother attended a Christian ladies evening. This family had been attending the church for a while. Each Sunday morning, the church bus picked up the brothers. The children smelled and were poorly behaved. I wasn’t really looking forward to having to babysit them.

They lived in a poor part of town I wasn’t at all familiar with. The house was dirty and cluttered. It smelled bad. The walls were marked and hadn’t been painted in years. But the full scope of their situation didn’t hit me until bed time. There was one single bed, a sort of war-time cot. No sheets covered the bare mattress. Each boy put his head down at an opposite end of the bed without a pillow. They spent the night sharing one thin wool blanket that wasn’t quite long enough. I wept.

I couldn’t believe people in my town lived without what I just assumed was normal for everyone: a pair of bed sheets. I must have had 3 or 4 different sets of fitted sheets for my bed – multiple choices for each season of the year. I had so many blankets and quilts that I kept some in a cupboard along with additional pillows. It wasn’t just the missing sheets that upset me – it was the first time I really understood physical poverty. Every night, these boys went to bed in one of the richest countries in the world…and all they had to keep them warm was a thin blanket.

I’ve travelled through garbage dumps in Asia and South America to hand out food supplies. I used to drive each day through an overcrowded and poor compound in Zambia. In Azerbaijan, we took ‘Christmas shoe boxes’ to war refugees who had been ‘temporarily’ resettled in a camp. Everywhere, it was the same: people who don’t have a change of clothes, a bed to sleep in or food in the cupboards – what we might think of as the basics in life. It never fails to move me. How can so many in this world have so little when so few have so much?

When I read about the ‘rich man’ in Scripture, I have to remember that it’s talking to me. I am among the richest and wealthiest 5% of all people in the world. And so are you. We don’t tend to think that we are well-off, but the statistics are pretty clear. We in the West live better, healthier and more prosperous lives than any other group in all of human history. Never has there been such wealth and extravagance.  Forget the list of the 100 richest people in the world – it’s us (our Western society) that the Bible calls to action.

‘Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing,
but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed.’ Proverbs 28:27

We can’t call ourselves followers of Jesus and close our eyes to the poor. We need to be intentional about living generously. We have been blessed to be a blessing. Helping those in poverty is about more than just sharing what we have – but it is never less than that. Perhaps it’s a charity or organization that will channel your funds to those most in need. Or perhaps there is someone in your town who needs a new pair of bed sheets. Don’t close your eyes but give out of the abundance that God has blessed you with.

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