"There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more who are dying for a little love."
- Mother Teresa
I have a friend named John. I have only gotten to know him while I lived in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, and I quickly found him to be something of an enigma. An Indian immigrant working downtown in a skyscraper bordering Millennium Park, he is one of the few Christians I have met who has seen true persecution due to his strong faith. He also swears like a sailor and drinks cheap whiskey from a plastic glass. Sometimes I am uncomfortable around him because he comes off rather racist. He is liberal with generalizations of ethnicities, and more than once his comments about Jews have left me completely aghast.
But he also has the love of Christ in him.
It is very easy for a self-described progressive to write someone like John off. He is too conservative, too capitalist. However, I feel energized and refreshed after a conversation with him. It takes a long time to get past the racism on the surface. John is unafraid to point out how many African American and Latina mothers have children before they graduate from high school. The crime, the drugs, the general lack of respect for the sanctity of life--he drags these subjects into the conversation and charges the people who are contributing to the problems. And I have to concede that these issues are often race-typed, though not race-caused.
So why am I refreshed? I see the love that John has in his heart for the hopeless, the undying wish that somehow things could be different, that children could play safely in parks and in yards and then finish their homework while parents stare daggers into them. I share that wish, and then I see the beautiful opportunity that only the grace of God affords. We can change the world in a small way. And then in a very, very big way.
What would happen if someone not only gave away clothes to the poor but then also sat down and shared life with them? What would happen if we not only provided a meal but then also heard about how the guest came there? What would happen if we shared the gospel--that the Creator God has redeemed the world and every last person in it through Jesus Christ--through a continued relationship in which we share not only material resources but also job opportunities, social events, and technical training?
It would be plain foolish to believe that poverty can be eradicated through human means, but our limits, our flaws, our weakness allows the transformational power of Christ to work miracles. In Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John Jesus tells his disciples that they will do even greater things than what Jesus himself has done. I used to wonder about what meant--I don't see faith healings or spontaneous regeneration of food often, if ever. However, I have learned that by loving our neighbor as Christ loves, we do indeed do things even greater than what the gospel writers recorded. Whole communities are lifted out of the depths of material poverty, not because they were given a gargantuan foundation grant but because they learned their strength, power, and value.
That, dear friends, is redemption.