The Book of Acts tells how the early disciples lived out their experience with Christ, after his ascension. Faith in Christ had to be lived out in community, where there was hurt, pain, disappointment, and other trials. Faith in Christ did not insulate the early Christians from the misfortunes of this world.
Remember that it was not long after the coming of the Holy Spirit that Peter and John encountered a crippled man at the gate, begging for alms (a handout). It was not long before the First Church of Jerusalem was forced to deal with poor widows and their children living among them.
It was as if the Holy Spirit tried to let Christians know that salvation would not release them from caring for the least, the lost, and the lonely. In fact, by accepting Christ, their eyes were opened to those they were called to serve, serve with, and love.
The earthquake in Haiti reveals a vivid picture of deep poverty. The earthquake forces Christians and others to look at poverty existing just beyond our shores. Does God expect and hold me accountable to respond to people who need me and my resources? Haiti is only the tip of the iceberg. The poor are all around us. The Church can not escape this call.
Yet, we sometimes forget that poverty exists not only Haiti, but in our own communities and beyond. The world needs our help and requires our love.
The 167,000 people of the 904 churches of the Holston Annual Conference are called to journey toward God’s preferred future of offering Christ in bold, passionate, and joyful ways to the people who need us. It is not always easy to live out that calling. There will be times when we will be called to live sacrificially, to deny ourselves for the Gospel’s sake, to go places we would rather not go, to be with people we would rather not be with, to give money when our nature is not to give, and to do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I celebrate with the many people of Holston who are responding to the call, while challenging those who have allowed their hearts to grow cold to let the Holy Spirit use them to God’s glory. Start looking around and listening to God’s call, and you will soon discover that so many people are in need. If you will only reach out to the poor in gratitude for what God has done for you, you will discover a fresh faith, a bolder spirit, a new-found confidence that God is with you.
You will discover that you are the salvation of the poor, but the poor will lead you to salvation by pushing you to be more like Christ. If you don’t know how to respond to this call, ask your pastor. If you or your pastor want to know where the needs are, contact your district superintendent or the conference staff. We want to stand with you as you Offer Christ through Ministries With the Poor.
"Ministries With the Poor" is the second of the Four Areas of Ministry Focus determined by the United Methodist Church. Bishop James Swanson wrote about "Developing Principled Christian Leaders" in January. Still to come are "Global Health" and "Creating New Places for New People."