“One great reason why the rich in general have so little sympathy for the poor is because they seldom visit them. Hence it is that . . . one part of the world does not know what the other suffers. Many of them do not know because they do not care to know: they keep out of the way of knowing it – and then plead their voluntary ignorance as an excuse for their hardness of heart.”John Wesley (d. 1791)
I know this to be personally true. Although not rich by standards in the US, I remember so very well my first visit to Ghana, West Africa in 1969. A young preacher 24 years old experiencing the poverty of a developing nation gave me a reality check. I was rich by anybody’s standards compared to what I saw and experienced on that trip. There have been many trips since then, and the contrast is a constant reminder of how very blessed (rich) I am.
Through the years leading small and large group trips to Ghana, Nigeria, and Chad, I have observed many people as they experience poverty on a level they have never seen before. They speak of shock: “I can’t believe people live like this”; “I never had any idea”; “They have so little, but they are so happy.” Pictures and videos struggle to share the reality of poverty they portray, but there is something about seeing third-world poverty firsthand that changes you forever.
There is yet another reality we often miss. It is the reality of spiritual poverty. It is as ugly and compelling as physical poverty because it has eternal consequences. While the cause of Christ is growing in many areas of our world, there are still more than 3 billion people who live with no access to or knowledge of Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers.
It is easy for us to focus on our needs and wants at the expense of seeing the opportunity to bring real lasting change to others both physically and spiritually. It is easy to forget the reason God blesses us with so much. It is not so we can build bigger barns (homes), bank accounts and investments focused on our security at the expense of the security of others whose lives we have been given the means to change. Jesus said that the security of our treasures is not found here but in the bank of heaven. God’s blessings to us have a purpose not only to bless us but others as well.
There are two kinds of poverty in our world. Poverty with safety nets like social security, welfare, and social services. Then there is poverty without any of those things. Add to this the lack of clean water and available health care. Poverty in the US is a first-world problem, the other a third-world problem without any kind of safety net.
Wesley’s quote may seem harsh, but sometimes we need to face the harsh realities. We are all stewards of what God has blessed us with. We are therefore accountable for all that God has blessed us with. Think for a moment about the parables of Jesus. Think about the challenges issued by Jesus to the wealthy. Think as well about the judgment scene in Matthew 25.
What does this have to do with missions and the Great Commission? Everything, because it has to do with our life’s focus. It has to do with fulfilling our God-given purpose and mission. Our mission is from God. It is funded by God through us. What we have been freely given we freely give to others. In Matthew 10:5ff, Jesus commissioned those early disciples with these words, “Freely you have received; freely give.”
Our physical and spiritual situation is an important part of the solution. But what are the “mechanics” of the solution? If it was accomplished in the first century, how does that apply to us? We are literally 2000 years removed from that time. Is it duplicatable? Is there a better way? We will seek to find answers next time.