January 2011–Social Justice
Rich in Spirit
Jaclyn Beck '07
“The nearest way to the heart of sorrowing humanity is through the heart of the man of sorrows.” ~ A.J. Gordon
“Poverty has a smell—a stench that you whiff as soon as you step off of the plane. You can smell the dirt, trash, urine, diesel fuel in the air wrapping around you like a blanket. Sometimes I felt like I was staring at a car accident—I didn’t really want to look, and I knew it was rude to gape with my mouth open, and I should just keep driving—but part of me couldn’t help but slow down and stare, and my mind couldn’t fathom what they are going through right now. Naked kids, cuts and scars, disease, dirty animals. And the true view of poverty is in its victims’ eyes—you look an adult in the eyes and can see his or her despair and pure exhaustion.
“Yet, there was something beautiful in the poverty—joy and hope where you least expected it. You see these people laughing and smiling and you think, ‘How can they be smiling? I would cry all day if I was in their position!’ And you realize the beauty of the poor—you see why God relishes in delight with the poor, and why He promises the first shall be last. And you realize that the wealthy of this world are the ones who are ‘poor in spirit’.”
That is Katilyn Evans’ first-hand account of the poverty she witnessed in Haiti when she lived there for three months through Child Hope International, a non-profit organization that rescues suffering and abandoned children in Port Au Prince. Kaitlyn graduated from Gordon in 2007, and one thing that makes her story interesting is that just before she left for Haiti, she was working at Tiffany & Co. in Los Angeles. On a conviction, she quit her job, sold some of her belongings, and in a matter of two months went from serving the richest of the rich in the one of the world’s most expensive zip codes to serving the poorest of the poor in one of the world’s poorest zip codes.
A tangible God
The bible says in the book of James that religion that is considered pure and faultless before God consists of this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, look after them, and keep oneself from being polluted by the world. The bible is also clear that God has a special interest in the welfare of those at the lowest end of the social ladder: widows, orphans, legal aliens, and others who are oppressed or disadvantaged in society.
I asked Kaitlyn what she thought was the best way to meet the needs of the poor. “The word ‘need’ is redefined in Haiti,” she said. “You really clearly see God answer prayer when you are praying things such as, ‘God provide food for this woman and her children tomorrow.’ Basic survival is dependent on a faith in Christ. How beautiful. If only everyone’s faith was such. I am fairly certain if you flew to Haiti and surveyed a group of Haitians they would say that God is tangible among the poor. And, when we reach out and help the poor, widowed, and orphaned it is not a reflection of ourselves, but a reflection of the One who loves perfectly, and that is the ultimate love.
“I lived with teenagers who had been raped, beaten, left in ditches to die—no home, no family, nothing. Yet, somehow they were able to cling to the love of Christ and fully, truly understand it. To truly grasp the Father’s love because they NEED it.”
This got me thinking about the Father’s love—especially as it relates to the impoverished and afflicted. I did some research, and what I found in A. J. Gordon’s sermon “Love of God” provided incredible hope. It is a message for all of us, but I imagine it could bring a special blessing to those who have only His love to hold on to for basic survival.
A. J. Gordon says, “No single one of us shall ever say in the world to come that he was left orphaned and unloved, that in the breadth and diffuseness of the divine affection it failed to compass and compassionate one poor sinner. None can truly say: ‘The Christ who loved the world and died for the world forgot me in His salvation and lost sight of me among the multitude of the subjects of His grace.’ Christ’s love can miss no one. A minuteness of regard which numbers each hair of our heads can never overlook an immortal soul amid the myriads of creation. So be assured, that however vast be the boundaries of your Savior’s love, it is a love that keeps sight of thee, and goes out to thee, and yearns for thee, just as if there were no other in all His universe.”
The need for movement
But, how exactly are we supposed to look after the oppressed, love them with Christ’s love, and meet the needs of such a vast amount of poor people in this world? This is a frustrating question, especially to those who have the heart to help.
Through Katilyn’s personal experience, she said that to meet the needs of the people we will need to seek the Holy Spirit—and He will guide us in our own personal journey to serving the poor because it can look different for every person. “I had felt the Holy Spirit breaking my heart for the poor for a little over a year,” she said. “Infomercials, economic books, and sermons on the poor were hitting a little harder at that period in my life, and at times reduced me to tears.
“I wanted to serve the poor in a way that was more tangible than sending a check. When the earthquake happened in January I felt like this hit home in many ways—my family had been to the Caribbean many times, my church had done missions trips to Haiti, and my college roommate was from Haiti. Although I had never been to Haiti, I somehow felt very connected to the tragedy. The feeling of dropping everything and jumping on a plane never went away. I would open my Bible and the word "poor" jumped off the page in every passage I was reading. The Bible is explicitly clear about caring for the poor, and I will never forget exactly where I was on a Wednesday night when I heard God say to me, ‘Go’. And, when the Lord puts something on your heart, it is the only thing you can think about, the only thing you can talk about, and the only thoughts that give you pure joy. My heart felt so light and full at just the thought of what the Lord was calling me to do.”
A. J. Gordon talks about the accomplishments of the Holy Spirit in his book Northfield Year Book; Each New Day. He says that true change and progress run through the Holy Spirit, and that there is power in it. “I was in the Chicago World’s Fair,” he said, “and was attracted to a man dressed up in a very gaudy Oriental costume, who was turning with all his might a crank which was attached to a pump from which a great stream of water was pouring out. I said, ‘That man is working hard and producing splendid results.’ I came near, and, to my astonishment, found that the man which was really only wooden, was not turning the crank, but the crank was turning him, and instead of his making that stream of water go, it was making him go.
“Many people want the secret of power. They hear about Peter preaching that wonderful sermon, and of curse they would give anything if they had the ability to preach one sermon and convert three thousand people. They say to Peter, ‘How did you get hold of that power?’ ‘I didn’t get hold of the power at all,’ he would say; ‘the power got hold of me.’ As a wheel dips itself into the river and makes all the cotton factories whirl, so Peter dipped into the Spirit and was swept by the current.”
Jaclyn Beck is currently an editor at HCPro, Inc. in Marblehead, MA. She graduated from Gordon College in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in Business Administration. She can be reached at jbeck711gmail.com.
1 James 1:27
2 Jeremiah 7:5-7
3 “The Love of God”, page 45
4 Northfield Year Book: Each New Day, page 13