I answered, “Because I have been poor. I was raised in apartments and have lived in a trailer court. I was the result of a one-night stand, never knew my biological father, was raised by a single mom who was too proud for government assistance. I spent my childhood years in the highest crime rate area of my city, wore hand-me-downs and was grateful for every meal. We didn’t have a lot of stuff growing up and scraped and scrapped for everything we did have. I was raised American poor, which is way better than third-world poverty but is poverty nonetheless.”
By this time we had stopped under the overhang of a restaurant to hide from the gentle rain coming down. He was listening intensely so I continued: “And if you would have asked me as an 8-year-old kid, the year someone introduced me to Jesus, if I could could choose between having all the food I ever wanted, a big house to live in, all the toys I could ask for, a college education someday and our family’s bills completely paid off, OR I could have Jesus, I would have picked Jesus in a New York minute.”
I explained to my younger youth ministry friend that poverty wasn’t the absence of money, but the absence of hope. As an 8-year-old child, Jesus gave me both security and significance. Through Jesus, I had access to a heavenly Father who would never leave me or forsake me like my biological father did. Through Jesus, I had a purpose for this life and a home in the next. I explained to him how my relationship with Jesus made me feel like the richest kid on my block.
My new friend was quiet, absorbing every word, so I finished my point:
“Yes, I was grateful for those who gave us food and clothes and helped us out of poverty. I was thankful for the church that took us in and helped to meet our needs. But it wasn’t anyone’s financial generosity that made me feel rich, it was Jesus. The rest of the clothes and food and financial help were simply the Ginsu knives, the ‘but wait there’s more’ bonus prize to the kingdom of God I was experiencing. It was Jesus himself, delivered to me through the Gospel message, who was the one who made me truly rich in spirit, hope and joy.”
I gently put my hand on his shoulder and said: “Brother, you have to be careful talking about poverty like you know what the heck you’re talking about. Because, if you’ve never been poor, you don’t. You also have to be careful about equating the kingdom of God with just giving someone food or providing for their physical needs without preaching the Gospel to them. Because to those of us who have been poor and who are now saved, what you are saying just sounds kind of stupid.”
Bracing for a philosophical beatdown from this obviously intelligent young youth pastor, he surprised me by saying: “I’ve never thought of it that way. You have given me a lot to consider. Thank you.”
Besides being blown away by his humility, I was excited by his openness. It gave me hope this current and coming generation of youth leaders were open to a truly holistic message of Christianity that encompasses mind, body and soul. It gave me hope these young leaders can learn to serve the poor on every level, through acts of social justice, empowerment and, of course, evangelism. After all, Jesus himself said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, beause he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” in Luke 4:18.
May the big example of Jesus and the little story I just shared inspire you to deliver someone from poverty today. Deliver them by giving them bread for their bodies and the Bread of Life for their souls!
These lies are told every day all around our country, and people are believing them.