For several years I have believed in ministering to those in need. I believed it, wrote about it, prayed about it, got on soap boxes about it. I really believed this, and I'd do what came across my path (write checks to help others, bring cans of food to food drives, participate in angel tree gift giving, etc). But then one day I was reading Compelled By Love by Heidi Baker, and I came across something that stopped me. She was talking about the parable of the banquet in Luke 14:12-14.
12And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. 13"But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Heidi Baker spoke about how in Mozambique they literally invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind to a feast. She then said something that sliced my heart raw. I don't remember her exact words (and I have loaned that book out to a friend; otherwise I'd throw that quote in here!); but the gist is this: I might agree with that idea in theory, but if I were to truly invite all the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind that I personally know, I'd be hard pressed to find anyone to invite. This was a hard pill for me to swallow. She was right, and I knew it. Though my mind and heart believed in serving those in need, within my personal circle of friends, there were precious few who fell into that category. I had orchestrated my world to keep out certain people, and If I were to give a feast to the needy, I'd know nobody to invite.
The idea of truly loving and serving the poor was something that appealed to me. Reading biographies of people who did that exact thing was so compelling. And yet the reality was that it was not part of my daily life. As Heidi B. Neumark states in Breathing Space, it was "safe to gawk at on an airbrushed screen or page, but far too threatening to engage in any meaningful, life-changing way."
In other words, there were very few actions to back up my beliefs. My comfort zone was...well, comfortable...and predictable and clean...but far from where I knew I wanted to be.
And then things changed... We stepped out of the boat and directly into the need.
On Palm Sunday, the ministry team we are a part of loaded up a couple of pick-up trucks full of clothes and a vehicle filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, and we invited several needy families to a special event.
Boxes of Valentine candy that had been donated to us were redecorated as gifts for each guest.
And a potluck table was spread thick with foods brought by people from many Latin American backgrounds. Most families, despite their need level, brought a dish to share with everyone. The poor know what it is like to be hungry, and they know how to share the little they have with others. (And this food was amazing!)
The most beautiful bilingual Palm Sunday story was told by a lady who does "sand stories" in this portable set-up featuring a miniature town of Jerusalem. The children were all given palm leaves and asked to lay them before Jesus as he rode his donkey into town.
After the music and food and Gospel story, all the families were invited to come take as much clothing and fresh produce as they wanted. We had 6 tables of clothing set up, as well as several tables loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables. A new volunteer wonders: "What if there's not enough food and clothing for everyone?" And we smile and tell them to sit back and watch God multiply it. And He does. Every family goes to the tables and fills bag after bag with food and clothing and shoes, and when everyone has finished, we have leftovers of everything. In fact, when we packed up the boxes of clothing at the end of the day, we packed the exact same number of filled boxes that we had originally brought. It makes no sense in human terms. We SAW many people leaving with bags filled with clothes, and yet we saw very little change in the number of clothes we had on the tables. Doubtful?? Well, just ask anyone who was with us Sunday. :) Some new volunteers left shaking their heads and wondering what in the world had just happened. We smile and tell them that God still multiplies fish and loaves to meet the needs of those who are hungry.
If you want to see miracles happen in real life, just go where God is...with the poor and needy, the hungry and broken, the lame and blind.