Step One: Get Mobile
For us, it wasn’t first an issue of “How do we address poverty in Africa,” because initially, we had no idea that our faith walk would take us to one of the poorest regions in the world. For us the issue was availability. Our lifestyle decisions up to that point had shackled us with so much stuff—and debt, we couldn’t follow Jesus beyond our comfortable neighborhood.
So when Bob and I began to get serious about living out our faith, one of the first things we did was make a commitment to get out of debt and detach from our stuff. We stopped using credit cards, put ourselves on a budget, and made a plan to get out of debt within a year. (Note: I do not believe debt includes a mortgage—a house is usually an investment.) Once we got ourselves out of debt, we then found ourselves much freer to follow a calling of God as we were no longer serving another (unfriendly, punitive) taskmaster. Our lack of debt freed us to ask serious questions about our lifestyle choices, and made us much more “mobile.” We were able leave the suburbs and live within walking distance of our church in one of the city’s poorest communities and get to know the salt there. We changed our purchasing patterns—less of the best, more used or second hand. Our debt-free mobility meant I could afford the time to work with community leaders and members to initiate a community development organization for our area—one that remains to this day. Our mobility allowed us the freedom to take a stand on behalf of Christian involvement in public education in poor communities—a position that cost Bob a good job at a Christian college whose policies prohibited that level of involvement. The result of the stand we were able to take brought us closer to the community. The path we had chosen meant Bob could start a low-cost counseling ministry in our area. Eventually, our path led us to Africa, and because we were not shackled to a consumer-based lifestyle and debt, we were able to go.
So for those who want to be more available to God—and His promised Abundant Life-- I suggest that you first get out of debt and work toward unattachment from the things of this world. Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." If you need additional help with getting out of debt, check out Financial Peace University (www.daveramsey.com/fpu/home ) or Crown Ministries (www.crown.org ). I‘m convinced that many people are called, but few are able to follow because they are serving two masters. Get out of debt and see what amazing and totally unexpected doors are wide open because you are free to walk through them.
Step Two: With Whom do You Identify?
Bob mentioned last week that it may be difficult or we may not want to identify with the poverty people endure everyday in, say, West Africa. As another step toward “doing something” I would recommend that you check out an opportunity that we published in The Reeds in Liberia a couple years ago, called "Let's play living Liberian" Click here. This is an exercise that you can do as a family to experience some of choices that millions of families face every day. I haven't heard of many people who have actually done it, as it's not easy to do, but if you are serious about leading your family in the path of righteousness for His name sake, and lack of empathy is standing in your way, I would strongly encourage you to try it. After you have experienced a bit of poverty for a period of time, have a family meeting and set a new budget with new goals for what can be cut and what the plan will be. The exciting part of the meeting would be to focus on what you will be able to do as a family for the Kingdom of God with the excess freedom your choices may give you.
Step Three: Learn from an Eleven Year-Old
A third step from there is to figure out what to do. I am convinced that no matter your age, no matter your skills, no matter your career, God can use you. In fact, He wants to use you in ways that you wouldn’t believe if He told you.
While driving the other day, I was listening to BBC and heard an interview with an 11 year old boy from Florida, who started walking for homelessness when he was six years old. The interviewer said, "Most people would say that children your age should be playing baseball or video games", Zach replied, "This is baseball or video games for me. I prefer to do this." He even started a foundation: Little Red Wagon, Inc. You can read/watch more at (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30644308/ or http://zachtracker.com). I didn't hear that this young man was a Christian, but his story, at his young age struck me as a parent and as an individual. If a six-year old can figure this out and make something happen, what can adults possibly say? The excuse “I don’t know what to do” won’t cut it. We can figure this stuff out. What we lack, Zach has—the empathy, the passion and drive to do it.
Both organizations that we work for (Partners Worldwide www.partnersworldwide.org and Christian Reformed World Relief Committee www.crwrc.org) work with regular people, in regular jobs, who want to give of their gifts and talents, whatever they may be. Check out their websites to see how to get involved. Yesterday I was on a phone meeting with Partners Worldwide, where two businessmen gave their testimonies of feeling restless last year, went to a Partners Worldwide conference in October '08, got plugged into work in Uganda, and are now using their gifts as business people in partnership with business people in Uganda - and their testimony is how they have been changed in the process. The excitement in their voice was palpable. (Partners Worldwide is having their 2009 conference October 8-10. Check out the website for more details.)
And throughout all this, Pray. Ask and listen. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”(1:6) Paul continues on to say, in verses 9-11, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”