Hearing the Cries of the Poor
by Shelly Esser
For some time I had been feeling that our family needed to reach out of our comfortable home in the suburbs to those less fortunate. I wanted our girls to see that there is a big hurting world out there and that God has called us to love and care about it as He does. So I called the Rescue Mission to see if we might be able to help with serving the homeless over the holidays.
“We’ve got enough help,” the kind voice on the other end of the phone responded. People come out of the woodwork to help for the holidays, but we’re short the rest of the year.”
“Can we set up a time to come once a week for the next year?” I asked.
She was delighted.
So for the next year, my husband and I and our four girls went to the Rescue Mission every Friday night to serve dinner to men, women, and children who had no home or knowledge of where their next meal would come from. All they had were the clothes on their back.
As we prepared dinner and cleaned up for over 300 people each week, it changed our lives. My youngest was four at the time. On a stool, she filled trays with desserts standing beside a former drug addict who had found the Lord at the Rescue Mission and who was now helping run the kitchen. My other girls cut up potatoes and carrots alongside people whose lives were so foreign to their own. Weekly, we were greeted with huge smiles and gratitude from people who had nothing. Christ’s love was administered as tiny four-year-old hands handed each homeless person a dinner roll and dessert. Week by week their faces became more familiar and we all looked forward to seeing them and giving them a meal in Jesus’ name. We looked forward to the redemption stories that we heard in the kitchen from men who had hit rock bottom, and the God who had miraculously lifted them up out of the pit. My girls were seeing firsthand the transforming power of God in people’s lives and these people who had lost everything were ministering to us! We came thinking we were the ones to help the poor, but they were the ones helping us.
God Provides Through His Servants
God’s provision for these homeless people was amazing. We were told how there were only enough funds for the main dish that was served three times a day, but how the missing pieces for every meal were always provided, and even more. It was a little like Jesus feeding the 5,000 with two loaves and five fish. Perhaps a hotel in the area had had a banquet and had leftover food, so they would send it over. If a vegetable was missing, it would come in. If dessert was missing, it would arrive.
God’s Word is filled with verses about His heart for the poor and how we must stand up for the poor. The Lord hears their cries. In fact, loving the poor was so much at the heart of who Jesus was that He tells us that if we don’t love those in need, we don’t love Him. Proverbs 19:17 says, “Those who are kind to the poor lend to the Lord.” Isaiah 58:10 says, “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
Over a billion people – more than one-fifth of the world’s population – live in absolute poverty and face an unending struggle just to obtain food, clothing, and shelter for survival. Shockingly, America, one of the richest countries in the world, has 32.5 million people that live below the poverty level. The poor that God loves are all around us.
According to Jesus, loving the poor is not optional; it is a mark of a disciple. Our time at the Rescue Mission taught us that we can no longer sit in our comfortable suburbs and ignore the cries of the poor. We have seen their faces, heard their stories, and looked into their sad but grateful eyes. We have a Biblical obligation to love and care about these precious people – people loved by and made in the image of God.
What Can I do to Help The Poor?
Check with your local Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, soup kitchens, or food pantries and volunteer throughout the year. Do this as a family, a women’s ministry group, etc. Help feed the poor under your own two feet.
Give material goods
One year our family gave Christmas to a poor family in the inner city, whose name we got from a church. Our girls participated in selecting gifts for children of the various ages. This past Christmas, we bought pajamas for children in an Ethiopian orphanage through an agency we knew of. We also have a tradition before the holidays to go through our children’s toys with them and take all the things they no longer play with or want – many that are almost new – and donate them.
Support a child in a poor country through agencies like World Relief or Compassion International. Many times you can support whole families for only dollars a month. We also regularly give to our local Rescue Mission, especially for their Thanksgiving and Christmas meal drives. We include our children and give as a family.
I will never forget the night I came to the dinner table to find only a bowl of rice and a glass of water. My mother told us we were having a Third World dinner. In our rich culture, we need continual reminders of the poverty that many in this world face every day. That simple gesture began to instill in me an awareness of the poor. You could do that monthly and donate what you would spend on that meal to your local food pantries or soup kitchens.