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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

So Easy to Forget

By Randy Hurst
Nov. 7, 2010

When the apostle Paul appeared before Peter, James and John in Jerusalem to defend his mission to the Gentiles, the three church leaders gave him only one instruction: “Remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10).

Perhaps in Paul’s passionate appeal, he focused so strongly on his call to proclaim the gospel that he failed to mention ministry to the poor.

The leaders at Jerusalem could have said, “Feed the poor” or “care for the poor.” Why did they say, “Remember the poor”?

I believe the answer is simple — because the poor are so easy to forget.

When we are used to comfort or abundance, we can easily forget that others are hungry and suffering. When we face struggles and needs, especially in today’s economy, it’s easy to forget that millions of people are in far greater need than we are.

Strangely enough, it’s easy to forget the poor no matter what our condition — whether we are financially secure or in great need.

Walking with the poor
Having traveled to more than 70 countries in the last 13 years, I have seen the devastating effects of poverty almost everywhere.

The sights, sounds and smells of places where the poor live are impossible to adequately describe. But a few words and pictures help convey some especially distressing impressions.

In El Salvador, one of the poorest countries in the Americas, I visited rural villages and the city marketplace, where I took the two pictures above. Most families spend the majority of their incomes just on food. Their greatest challenge in life is simply having enough to eat. Few think — let alone dream — of a better tomorrow. Born into a prison of poverty, they serve a life sentence of constant need.

In Mexico City, I trudged through a seemingly endless garbage dump covering scores of acres (right). Scattered throughout it are makeshift shacks where families survive by scavenging through the mountains of trash. The stench is indescribable. Hundreds of thousands of people migrate from poor rural areas to the city, trying to escape village poverty. Once there, they have no means — or will — to return. They struggle to exist in indescribable squalor.

One of my most painful memories is Mathare Valley, a collection of villages just outside Nairobi, Kenya, in East Africa. In these shameful slums, 250,000 people live in unspeakable filth.

Shacks made of tin, mud and wood line the dirt road leading to a garbage dump. Children comb through trash heaps for food. Some children drink water from an open sewer that trickles like a dying stream. Desperate for food, they resort to thievery and violence, and girls as young as 10 turn to prostitution.

Hemmed in by a pressing throng of children, I took one picture after another. Faces showed physical abuse and emotional suffering — expressions that should not be in the eyes of any child. One boy (left) seemed emotionally numb. He was the only child who never smiled.

On my first visit to Mathare Valley in 1998, Hal Donaldson, then editor of the Pentecostal Evangel, and president of Convoy of Hope, accompanied me. Our conversation on the flight back home led to what has been a growing partnership between AG World Missions and Convoy of Hope to feed the hungry and touch the poor and suffering with the compassion of Christ.

I couldn’t imagine the woman as a young girl. She must have enjoyed times of happiness, but the look in her eyes revealed resignation to a life of sorrow, pain and abuse.

Her expression said something more than I was capable of understanding, but I knew the underlying feeling was hopelessness.

A smiling young girl was one of many tens of thousands of children trying to survive in these pathetic conditions of poverty. Walking among these poor children, I witnessed scenes that most Americans have never experienced. A hungry young girl gnawed on the skin of a chicken foot she had found. Another boy stared at me through bars of a gate, a graphic symbol of the impoverished prison in which he was trapped.

Standing in the midst of Mathare Valley, I was confronted with a spiritual issue: Can a follower of a loving, merciful God see fellow human beings in such need and do nothing?

The apostle James, the earthly brother of Jesus, wrote: “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (James 2:15,16, NASB).

Physical poverty is devastating, but the most destructive poverty of all is spiritual.

I visited a rural village in North India where girls are raised to become prostitutes. Seven generations ago, women performed as dancers for kings. As the kings lost their wealth and power, the dancers turned to prostitution for survival.

The spiritual darkness here is indescribable. Literally every home is a brothel. Young women work seven days a week accommodating 10 to 15 customers a day.

I took pictures of some younger children playing. Their faces brightened as I showed them their images on the digital camera screen. Through the mascara and lipstick the girls wore in preparation for their future roles, the innocence of childhood still showed clearly. Sadly, that innocence will soon be destroyed, and their suffering will begin.

In recent years, this suffering has become even more horrific because of HIV/AIDS. One young father said sadly that 22 girls from the village were dying of AIDS. But to avoid financial poverty, the prostitution continues because the people believe it’s their only possible source of income.

I can’t express the overwhelming sorrow I felt in that village. The memory of those young children still haunts me. The poverty they face is not financial; it is spiritual. They have food. They need the gospel.

If we must choose between ministering to physical needs alone or doing so while presenting the gospel and providing a spiritual family where people can grow in Christ, the choice is clear. Unless the needs of man’s eternal soul are addressed, any effort to meet his physical and social needs is both incomplete and temporary.

A significant difference exists between our purpose and that of secular or even parachurch relief agencies. Whether giving medical care to the suffering or feeding the hungry, our missionaries always try to share the gospel of Christ and connect people with a church.

Though so easy to forget, the poor are all known and loved by our Heavenly Father. Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29, NRSV).

God, who sees each sparrow fall, values every person on earth and has called us to value and care for them also.

When we remember the poor, we can make a difference in their lives — not only now, but for eternity.

RANDY HURST is communications director for AG World Missions.

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