Three things have shaped and defined me over the last five years of my life. Firstly, I am a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. Secondly, I have pursued an academic and practical enquiry into the existence of poverty and what can be done about it. Lastly, I have spent time with the poor; on the dirt floors of their temporary shelters as they seek refuge in an overcrowded, disease-ridden camp.
Up until a year ago, these exact three things led me to the unwavering belief that I had been called by God to help save the poor. I was certain the best way to do this was through far-reaching, high-impact development projects. This is where good-intentioned aid workers like myself endeavour to raise money for communities in developing countries as we try to improve livelihoods and prevent further oppression.
It used to be relatively easy for me to say I was pursuing justice and helping the poor. But now, something has changed.
The idea of spending 40 hours a week helping to save the poor as I sit in a comfortable office chair makes me feel uncomfortable. And this is where it gets complicated—it is the comfort, or lack of discomfort, that makes me feel uncomfortable. Let me explain: I may be helping hundreds or even thousands of people through my role at World Vision, for example, but not actually coming face-to-face with suffering or engaging in meaningful, life-giving relationships with the poor.
Can I honestly say that I am loving the unlovable in our world, participating in their suffering, and building long-lasting relationships with the poor?
What does it mean to truly follow Christ into the gallows, the dark chambers of despair, where the poor, marginalised or lonely dwell? Here are a few thoughts I have been entertaining over the last few months:
I am interested in people, not poverty
Jesus was concerned with the poor and He calls us to advocate for them and to fight against the injustice of their oppression. But Jesus was not passionate about poverty, He was passionate about people. Christ did not attempt to eradicate poverty, instead He reached out to the lepers, the foreigners and the destitute who crossed His path.
He laid hands on them and participated in their suffering. Instead of searching for people in poverty, I want to search for the poverty in people. Poverty exists in every corner of the world and I will not wait until I am in Africa, Asia, or Syria before I respond to the needs of my people.
I am interested in people, not projects
God does not see us as 'projects'. He does not stop pursuing us once we have salvation. He desires to build life-long relationships with us and journey with us throughout this rollercoaster ride called life.
In the same way, I want to invest in someone's life journey. I want to get up close and personal in my pursuit for justice, I don't want to love the poor merely from the comfort of my desk chair. Small daily encounters with the poor are more important to me than large or successful projects.
I am interested in people, not progress
I am thankful God does not define us by our deeds or works, but by our intimate relationship with Him and His creation. It is easy to give our time or money to something we know will produce results. We want to know our labour is not in vain.
But I want to try something radical: I want to spend my days reaching out to the unchurched, lonely, smelly, weird and wonderful people in my backyard—local and global—without measuring the impacts. I do not want to see progress. I want to see people.
God is interested in people
My concluding thought is this: God is not interested in poverty, He's interested in people. All He desires of us is to reach out our hand to the forgotten—the ones who go unseen or unheard. To embrace someone's suffering, to dive into their world and to build relationships. Kingdom relationships will ultimately see the chains of injustice broken, and the oppressed set free. Let people be our pursuit. Let us hunger for justice and ask for discomfort. Let our anger turn into compassion, and let success be defined by those small encounters of radical love.
I leave you with this beautiful Franciscan Benediction which inspires me in my foolishness to love:
May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.
Bex Silver is from Auckland, New Zealand and has recently returned from living on the Thai-Burma border working to help people displaced by war. She has a Masters in International Development and is passionate about advocating for social justice through her writing.
Bex Silver's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/bex-silver.html