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Offer your heart of love to the poor

I saw this comment on you tube about the poor in response to an ABC news piece on the issue. ” The poor are stupid. It’s not hard to get an education and move up the ladder. I’m glad they stay poor because the world needs McDonald’s and Wal-Mart “associates.”  Those who truly care about the plight of the poor would find such a statement shocking, and even disgusting. I as a Christian and a social advocate bristle whenever such words of intolerance and seething hatred  are written or spoken.

I have worked on the front lines of social services seeing the faces of poverty up close.  As one who trained extensively in counseling they come with what is called sad effect. Their faces show the ravages of poverty etched with the marks on their faces of suffering and despair. They ask only to be part of a community that cares, that hears their concerns. They ask only for a job and a good education.

It’s not enough that they suffer with the misery of poverty. They also have to endure the wilfull ignorance of those who spew hatred like this ignorant you tube commenter, who has no compassion for those who struggle to survive.

Most pieces on poverty bury you in statistics that you ignore because numbers alone don’t touch your heart or mine. I’m not going to do that. Instead, I will paint a picture of what poverty means for those who suffer its injustice and inhumanity. I hope in doing so I will inspire you to be an instrument of change in your community.

I urge you to hold your duly elected officials to the fire. It is their role to be your representatives. Yet, if you remain silent, you tell the government that poverty is not any of your concern. You tell them it’s okay to ignore the problem, to focus on other issues.

Poverty wears the face of despair and a growing hopelessness of the spirit. As time goes by without any help hope dies. It is far easier for those who live in the stinking misery of poverty to give up hope.  Dreaming and believing there can be a better future is too painful. It just hurts too much to hope when hope’s dreams are beaten down over and over again.

I have seen the poor come to the family services office I was working in looking for help with food assistance. Sometimes, I would vomit seeing the growing sea of poverty come begging, pleading for even three days worth of food.  The clients stop looking directly at you. The cruelty, abuse they experience from a cold-hearted system that denies them opportunity to thrive and  a growing societal intolerance to their situation wears them down.  There is no brightness left in their eyes. The light that once shone dies its slow and miserable death. Many times they cry before my eyes in in a torrent of sadness. I find it hard, really hard to fight back my own tears. But I must fight them back because I am here to help them, to offer them the agape compassion of Christ.

The attitude that exists even with some members of our churches speaks to the heart of the problem. When I was in need of help with some basic necessities while on welfare I went to a wealthy person in our church for help. He said, “Go speak to family services. That’s what I give my tithe for.” Here I was reaching out to a fellow brother of Christ asking for some help. I got nothing but rejection and disdane.

The atttitude of I gave at the office is a large part of the problem. You cannot legislate an attitude. You can’t make people do the right thing. Only God can make a cold heart into a warm and giving heart.

What I am asking you to do is examine your heart. Ask your Lord if there is anything you can do to be an advocate for the poor in your communiy. Join a group that fights for the rights of the poor. Volunteer at your church or a local food bank. Do something if you aren’t already to be a voice of hope and compassion for the poor.

All of us could become poor. Many people are only a few days or weeks from having no money to live on. It is too easy to say there isn’t enough money because those poor people sit at home, watch mindless TV, drink beer and eat popcorn.

Certainly, some who are poor make poor choices on the use of their limited funds. But ask yourself how you can make $520 stretch to pay for your rent, food, clothes, transportation and toletry articles. I had to do that when I was on welfare. My rent was $400 a month. I lived in a dingy basement room so small I could barely turn around in it, but I was still thankful. It was a place to escape to when the pain of poverty became too much to endure. It was my oasis from having to go to one job interview after the other hearing what to me became an evil mantra. “You’re overqualified. You have too much experience. ”

I recall one night as if it was yesterday. I poured my heart out to the Lord. I said, “Lord, I can’t take this journey anymore. The memory of offering what little remained on my phone card for a bus ride back to my little sanctuary I called home is etched on my mind and heart forever. The person I asked for help looked at me with disgust. She judged me. When I needed her compassion she offered me her callous heart. I yelled out, “Father, take me home!” Tears flowed. “Oh, God, please be merciful and let me die!! Father, the comment from a man claiming to be my friend at church eats away at my soul. “I know why you are a failure. You’re lazy.”

Lazy? Did he care one second about my every moment of pain, of trying to get work. Did he go to job interviews slanting his chair because with my severe astigmatism before surgery, my eyes went in two different directions. I was afraid I would be judged as not focusing on the interviewer(s) because I could not look them directly in the eyes. I grew weary of having to explain time and time again that’s why I needed to have the chair slanted.

I was one of the blessed ones. God spoke to the hearts of some friends and family. Friends would arrive with a Tim Horton’s coffee and more importantly their love. Friends my wife and I dearly love would come with groceries. A woman of God who is one of my closest friends  would always know when I was leaving items off of the grocery list. She would say, “Kevin, what are you leaving out?”

I was being taught the importance of the gift of receiving. I am still learning that lesson. I still on the limited funds of Ontario Disability fail to ask for the help I need as the costs for my medical care rise bercause of two auto immune conditions.  It attacks my dignity every time I need to ask for help.

My hope is no different from yours. I simply want a career apart from the graduate missions studies I am taking. I am continuing with a Master of Divinity program at Trinity College along with my wife, Karen, who will be starting her journey with me in the same program starting January 2014. This dream is only possible because of a generous bursary covering 85% of our fees.

My desire is to be independent of disability.

Yet, I am only one of many who dream to be given the opportunity to work. Most on welfare or disability seek to be contributors to society. Why I ask are we not given those opportunities to be free from social assistance? Why do I have to fight so hard to convince people I can make a contribution and get paid for it?

I raise my voice about poverty because the love of Christ for the suffering compels me to do so. I pray many voices will join with mine as we seek together to be God’s instruments of change for a more loving and hopeful world.

I asked for $197 to take a skype singing course with Roger Burnley. I was told that dream was impractical when I have demonstrated to many that the Lord has gifted me as a singer. Roger Burnley is a famous vocal coach, who was improving my voice with his over 20 years of experience in vocal coaching.  We couldn’t afford the ongoing training.

It’s hard for some of those who have so much to get their heads around the fact, that so many don’t even have enough food to eat. They live a sheltered existence away from the suffering of others. “Go away. That’s what I give my tithes for, so I don’t have to be bothered by weaklings like you.”

Poverty is a killer of dreams. It extinguishes hope. It steals away the light of joy. It eats away at the spirit and kills the body. It shortens life as hope dies its slow tortorous death, killing the spirit and then the body.

There is more than enough wealth in the world, that no mother should have to look into the eyes of their children, and pray for them to die. Death becomes a greater mercy to many because of the gnawing pain of hunger.

It is an angering thing when the only hope left for a person is that they would have one meal a day. The greed that strangles hope, that worships the god of materialism must be angering God’s heart. It must be infuriating Christ like He was incensed when He overturned the tables of the money changers  at the temple in Jerusalem for carrying on the business of buying and selling in his Father’s house of prayer. He scolded the merchants for making it into a market place from the  original Greek  “emporion”, from which we get the English word” emporium.” He was so angry that He used a whip made from rope to chase the merchants out of the temple (John 2:15-16).

The sight of that malnourished child in that video you watched riveted me. Yet, to save our sanity we have to often turn away from such images of suffering. God understands. He knows you care. He knows you want to help. He asks you not to allow your politicians to sweep the problem under the rug, to say it is impossible to solve the problem of poverty. Thank God there are politicians who do care. I have spoken with many of them. They want to do all they can to rid poverty from their province, state and country. They ask for our help, our ideas. Let’s all give them what they say they want.

I know that those who follow this blog do care. Many do not. They have either stopped caring or they never cared. Others need to be encouraged.

Keep up the great work you are doing to fight the war against poverty! I use military language because we should be seeing poverty as the enemy. We need to fight for victory over it just like soldiers fight to win against their enemy. Poverty is the enemy of hope. It is the enemy that kills dreams. It holds its capives in prisons of unrelenting torment and despair.

Together we can build a better communities and a kinder world where poverty of the body and the spirit are addressed. Stand up against the winds of opposition you will face in speaking out the truth God wants us all to speak. He is sick and tired of poverty. There is no need for it. Where greed lives poverty will thrive. Greed is the parasite of hope. It feeds on the misery of others as wealth is hoarded and not shared.

I know rich people who do care. They use the blessing of their wealth to help those in need. I commend them for their tireless efforts in addressing the plight of the poor.

Together we can make a difference.

I leave you with Mother Teresa’s Song to inspire you as you seek by God’s amazing grace to live out the passion of serving Christ with love and humility.