Question: “Do we NEED the poor?” The question almost sounds offensive. Many might say the poor need us, but that we have no real need for them. Let’s think about that…
How many people count on you each day? Family, friends, boss, coworkers, clients, customers? How many people need you? How much does that inform or define your identity? If I’m honest, I’d have to say it defines a lot of my identity.
In our world, the more people that need you, the more important you are. To be needed is to be valued. The band Cheap Trick said it well, “I need you to need me.”
Recently a scuffle broke out between a few men at The Relief Bus who are homeless. One of our friends on the streets who comes regularly and who we know by name, stepped in. He said, “Stop fighting! If you do this, these people can’t keep coming here and then where will we be?” The man knew how much he and many others desperately needed us to be there every week.
In 25 years no staff or volunteer with New York City Relief has ever been assaulted in dealing with one of the most volatile people groups in our country. The homeless are very protective of us. I have to tell you that is a very special feeling, that they would risk themselves to protect us. To be honest, it feels good to be needed, appreciated and protected.
People count on The Relief Bus, not the bus but the people on the bus- staff and volunteers. It’s hard to grasp but New York City Relief serves over 400,000 servings of food each year. That’s a lot of people who would be hungry without our help. Last year staff and volunteers prayed 20,000 prayers on the streets. That’s a lot of people who wouldn’t have had prayer, if we weren’t there for them. Of course the biggest need is love and a friend who cares.
Outreach Team Leader Johanna Soukka is one of the people helping to meet that need of love and friendship on the streets with The Relief Bus. Here she is pictured with Albert, a homeless man who has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, has been shunned by his family, and has lost almost everything. One thing he hasn’t lost is his faith. When she and a volunteer talked to him, he was quoting the Bible extensively and holding onto those scriptures with all of his might.
It feels good to be needed by the poor and that need even creates a job for me, a reason to get up early and work hard all day. How pointless would my day feel if I didn’t have a job?
What if your boss told you that he no longer needed you? That would be a blow, but one that you could recover from by getting another job and finding a boss who does need you. But what if your spouse or children told you that they didn’t need you? That would be a tough blow to recover from.
Many of our homeless friends on the streets feel unneeded by society, and maybe bosses, friends and even family have told them that they don’t need or want them anymore. There may be good reason for the rejection they experience due to choices they have made. What identity do they have left after that? How do you recover from that blow? How pointless does their life feel?
When Jesus spoke to the poor, the unemployed, the handicapped, He felt their pain. Jesus had times when he himself was hungry but had no food. He slept outdoors. The local religious establishment didn’t think they needed him.
Do we need the poor? Does the church think that they have value? Are we pursuing them because they are just too important to be left as outsiders?
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
1 Corinthians 12:21-27 (NIV)
So let me get this straight. According to the Bible, the poor are indispensable, worthy of honor and special treatment. If they suffer, we suffer. If they win, we win. By the way, if you don’t think that some of the body of Christ is homeless and living out on the streets, think again:
I read an article by a man named Chris Arnade who is a former prominent Wall Street trader, currently is an Atheist, and now a photographer who daily documents the poorest of the poor in the South Bronx. His photographs are stunning. Here he documents how strong the faith is of his friends who are drug addicts, prostitutes and homeless. His article articulates how he used to proudly deride the faith of Christians, but now he sees how vital it is to those living on the edge of disaster. He was deeply moved by how much their love for God kept them going through the worst of circumstances. Chris needed his friends to show him what faith is all about.
You see, we have many brothers and sisters on the streets who trust God everyday just to survive. They cry out to Jesus from the traps of poverty and addiction. They hold on one more day because they believe that as bad as they are, Jesus still loves them- not because of their accomplishments, but because of grace.
We have so much to learn from the poor. We truly need them.
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