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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. ...

Every Believer's Responsibility

By L. John Bueno
Nov. 7, 2010

Nearly 50 years have passed, but the scene remains vivid in my mind. About midnight on a dark street in San Salvador, El Salvador, a young boy stood at an intersection. Driving past him on my way home, I was surprised that a child so young was out alone at such a late hour.

Noticing the newspapers in his hands, I realized he was one of hundreds of children who swarm the city streets each day. By selling newspapers, shining shoes or outright begging, they do what they can to help the family income, if only by a small amount.

The boy at the intersection still had three newspapers to sell. “Who on earth is going to buy a paper at midnight, right before the new edition comes out?” I asked myself. But something about the boy let me know that he didn’t want to go home with unsold merchandise. Feeling sorry for him, I stopped the car and bought all three copies. I’ll never forget the look of excitement on his face as he grabbed the money and scampered home.

That experience changed the boy’s life for a few hours. It changed my life forever. Through that encounter, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart about the Father’s concern for the poor. I knew it involved more than buying a few newspapers; it meant helping people so they could one day provide for themselves.

In 1963 my wife, Lois, and I took a step of faith and started a school for children in need. Eighty-one boys and girls filled three makeshift classrooms in our church. Enrollment grew steadily, prompting us to expand to other locations. Eventually an entire system developed, called Liceo Cristiano (Christian School). Over 47 years, more than 1 million children have attended classes at Liceo Cristiano sites. Currently, there are 37 schools and 16,000 students attending.

God has continued to challenge me concerning my role in ministry to the poor. Over a five-year span I made a point of noting Scripture passages about the poor as I read my Bible each day. As a result of that study, God showed me once again that we, as believers, should be agents of change in society. When we make Him Lord of our lives, He puts a love in our hearts for Him and for our fellow man. Our love for the poor is evidenced by our response to the needs around us.

God and the poor
God promises to defend the poor. The Psalmist records His declaration: “I will arise and defend the oppressed, the poor, the needy. I will rescue them as they have longed for me to do” (Psalm 12:5, The Living Bible).

Because God cares so passionately about the plight of the poor, He gave clear instructions regarding how His followers should help people who struggle to have the basic needs of life. The outcome of obeying or ignoring these instructions is plain: “If you give to the poor, your needs will be supplied! But a curse upon those who close their eyes to poverty” (Proverbs 28:27).

God is genuinely concerned for the poor, and He does not fail to notice their needs.

The individual and the poor
The majority of verses I noted during my devotional studies emphasized the individual and the poor. Clearly, each of us is responsible for assisting people in need. The apostle Paul highlighted this in his letter to the Corinthians: “The godly man gives generously to the poor. His good deeds will be an honor to him forever” (2 Corinthians 9:9).

Our attitudes and actions must reflect the same care and concern that God has for needy people. Ministry to the poor must be a deliberate attitude, not something we do halfheartedly. Sometimes a great gap exists between what we say we believe and who we really are and what we do. But God wants to develop in us a heart attitude that responds to the needs of people around us. Ministry to the poor isn’t someone else’s job or the church’s responsibility; it is the work God has given each of us to do.

The gospel and the poor
Luke 4:18,19 sets the tone for Jesus’ ministry on earth and underscores how the gospel ministers to the whole person.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that captives shall be released and the blind shall see, that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him.

Eternal life is the great hope of the Church, yet we cannot diminish Jesus’ ministry to physical needs. The pattern He gave describes what true ministry to the poor involves.

Healing the brokenhearted. Emotional and psychological needs are not limited to the poor, but this group is unquestionably included among those who can receive wholeness through Christ.

Release from captivity. This phrase speaks of demonic oppression as well as the domination of unjust political systems. Many countries struggle under a great imbalance of wealth, but Jesus came to bring justice.

Opening blind eyes. Jesus came to bring healing for all people. This is especially meaningful regarding the poor, since they often lack the resources to find proper medical care.

Freeing the downtrodden.  Salvation offers release from the injustices that we see around us. The political oppression felt in many parts of the world underlies the fact that God has the final say in every matter.

By demonstrating God’s love to the poor, we communicate the gospel and open the way for God to touch people’s lives and “give blessings to all who come to Him.”

Let us not forget
Since the day Lois and I opened the first Liceo Cristiano, we have seen God pour out His blessings to hundreds of children who accepted Christ in the classroom. These students have gone on to touch others as they witness through their lives and professions. As they “remember the poor,” they are helping to make a difference in their world.

Eelin Valle was born with a disability. She attended a small village school before receiving an opportunity to attend Liceo Cristiano. Most of the village children never finished elementary school, but Eelin was determined. After graduating from high school, she went on to earn a doctorate in a specialized field of law. Now she is reaching out to other children who need the same opportunity she was given.

Thirteen-year-old Edgar Borja excelled at swimming and hoped to earn an athletic scholarship at a good school. When his dream didn’t materialize, he saw no way out of his hopeless circumstances. He applied to a nearby Liceo Cristiano and was accepted, but he remained ambivalent about the gospel message he heard in Bible class.

Before graduating from high school, he surrendered his life to the Lord. He went on to earn a master’s degree and started two businesses. He led a church cell group in an impoverished neighborhood, and within three years he became pastor of the growing group. Eventually the church became a Liceo Cristiano site.

Guillermo Izaguirre accepted Christ in a Sunday School class when he was 9 years old. His parents were not believers, but when Guillermo was 12 he convinced them to let him attend Liceo Cristiano. Only two years later his father died, leaving him with no way to pay the small school fee. Lois and I agreed to sponsor him until he graduated. At the time, he was wavering in his spiritual commitment, but our support was a factor in his returning to the Lord. Today he has a degree in Christian education and directs a Liceo Cristiano with more than 1,000 students.

There are many more stories like those of Eelin, Edgar and Guillermo — stories of impoverished children who were given hope for the future. Proclaiming the gospel is about bringing people to Christ and letting Him change their lives. Everyone — including the poor — must be given this opportunity. We can help give them a new life in Christ and a hope for the future — both in this life and in the one to come.

L. JOHN BUENO is executive director for AG World Missions.

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