Helping the poor or serving the poor?
What is poor? When does one cross that line where now they are categorized as poor? One might say, “Well if your on the streets” another “If your on welfare”. But like anything else it is open to interpretation. I recently read a frustrating piece of literature by Christopher Hitchens about Mother Teresa. I’m not going to go into it because frankly the book does nothing to show me Mother Teresa as a terrible person but instead gives us a peek into the frightening mind of Hitchens. But it made me think a little bit more about the perception towards Christian missionaries and frankly many Christians themselves make this error.
It is well established that when it comes to volunteer work or charitable giving the Christian is more likely to be a part of this than the atheist. For anyone who doesn’t believe me read the book Who Really Cares. One would think this would rally the vocal atheists to start yelling at atheists to do more charitable work. But instead I find they are spending more time trying to make the Christian missionaries and charitable givers look bad in order to prevent them from being shown in a better light. In short, instead of trying to raise the atheist to bring them to the same level as Christians they instead try to bring down the Christian to the atheist level. (Again I’m not saying every atheist does this its just been the general response I’ve been getting lately).
An example, I once had an atheist say to me, “Christians are spending more time praying with the poor and not enough time doing something about poverty”. This actually shows a warp view of what exactly Christian missions should be about. After recently spending close to a year living in Kenya I have a stronger sense of what it is a Christian missionary should be doing while they are there.
The warp idea for the outsider looking at a missionary is that a missionary should be for lack of a better term “help the poor”. But I disagree with this. Besides I don’t even know what this means? How do I know if I helped the poor? If poverty level in a country decreased by 5% does that mean I successfully helped them but if it increased 5% I didn’t help them? That’s a terrible standard and also a very big burden to put on the missionary. “If you don’t decrease poverty by the time your back you’re a failure”.
Let me tell you what I believe a missionary should be doing? Serving the poor. Anybody can help the poor. All you have to do is give money to any charitable organization and your helping the poor. I actually have a rule against giving individuals money. If I’m going to quote “help them” I’ll find out what they need and give money to an organization who will get it or fund it. Past experience has shown me that giving money to an individual 99% of the time actually causes more headaches and doesn’t really help anybody. So what do I mean by serving the poor? I mean experience them. Now this is something only a missionary can do. I’ll give an example. I was a teacher at a Bible College in Kenya and I made it a personal goal to visit and preach at the church of every pastor who was a student at the Bible College (if you think this was a daunting task I finished my missionary period visiting all but one because of last-minute problems.) And I also made it a priority to have dinner at each of their homes.
Now wait a minute. Am I saying I served them by having them make dinner for me, pay for it and clean up after me? The answer is yes. To them there was no higher honor I could give them then by visiting their home and having dinner with them and all they desired from me was to pray for their home before I left. This is what I meant by experiencing them. Now serving the poor in another country may be different than by what it meant in Kenya. But the principle is the same.
This is what makes the atheist mindset of Christian missions so depressing. I’m a failure at charity because after I left Kenya aids is still as bad as ever and poverty hasn’t improved. But that shouldn’t be the main priority of any Christian missionary. Your main priority when you go on a mission trip is to experience the people and show love to the people you are with. If while your there poverty does go down well then God be praised but I think you get my point. Now between a father and their child what sounds like experiencing each other and showing love to each other, buying them a car or having dinner with them?
God loves being Abraham's father,
God loves being David's father,
God loves being my father
So when someone asks "Who's ya daddy?" I say God.