We should remember the Poor - Galatians 2:10

Remember the Poor


         My husband and I used to own a cute little house in the woods. It was perched upon a pink granite ledge surrounded by enormous cedar trees. A little stream flowed out from somewhere beneath the house and trickled down over the ledge below our deck. We’d watch the hummingbirds come to bathe there and refresh themselves in the crevices of the rock. Except for the black flies and the mosquitoes we thought our home was the closest you could get to paradise on this planet.

      Then we mortgaged our house and went into a lobster wholesaling business with the wrong people. Shortly afterward paradise, along with our home, was lost.

      In the beginning of our new business venture, when everything was going well, I remembered telling my husband, “If the Lord wants to move us He’ll use this.” God had been calling us into ministry around the same time and somehow I knew that I would not be able to leave paradise without being shoved forcibly from the nest.

      Our woodland studio had been a wonderful place to do our art work. In the solitude our zeal for God blossomed and we turned our artistic endeavors to His service. The loss of our home propelled us into our first travel trailer and we began doing art shows in the malls as an outreach.

      I obtained the money for the trailer’s down payment by selling off my treasured antiques; a Persian rug that had belonged to my grandparents, gorgeous clocks, a prized collection of American Indian pottery. At the same time I had a vivid dream that I was singing, “All you need is Jesus” while I was flying freely. The ballast was being cut off me like a balloon.

      We never made a lot of money at our art shows, just enough to keep us barely going. When we arrived in California the only place we could afford to live was a parking strip along the ocean in Ventura called the Rincon. It was only four dollars per night to camp there, and there were no facilities, just a parking space, but we loved it. It was the ocean, the beach, the rocks and our trailer. Sometimes the water would get so close when the waves broke the spray would soak my feet as I stood in the doorway of our portable home.

      We’d watch the surfers from our bedroom window. Once I saw a dolphin glide right beneath a surfer as he rose upon a crest of a wave. The whales would come by and the people would swim out to pet them. One evening as we were watching a magnificent sunrise, a beautifully played bag pipe began to serenade us with “Amazing Grace”. We looked out the window and a man was standing on the rocks facing the sea and that awesome sky, thanking God in his way.

      We felt like paradise was ours once again, this time with a beach front setting instead of our trees. Then one day we were doing an art show in Orange County. I was walking through the appliance section in one of the department stores and I stopped in front of a television set to listen to a news report. They were interviewing a man who was discussing the closing down of our beloved Rincon campground!

      The strip of highway that was our home was located between some very affluent waterfront communities. The man being interviewed was one of those disgruntled residents who were forcing the town to remove us. I listened with my heart breaking as he complained about the campers.

      “I deeply resent the fact that they can have this view for only four dollars a night when I have to pay all these taxes!”

      I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He had a house with indoor plumbing and hot and cold running water! I was living next to a family who had to tie plastic over their tent trailer to keep their kids warm at night. Like us, the Rincon campground was all that homeless family could afford. Where were we going to go?

      The campground was closed. The only other places that were barely affordable were the state parks. The rent then was ten dollars per night, but there was water, electricity and a dump station. Profound luxuries! We had to leave after two weeks according to the regulations, then we’d travel to another park, stay two weeks there, then return for another two weeks at our starting point.

      There was an affluent neighborhood in the hills above one of the campgrounds. Sometimes the adolescent offspring from that community would come to the park and harass the homeless people who were living there. We were never bothered, I guess because we had a travel trailer and it looked as if we were legitimate campers. We were still considered the rich guys in our neighborhood compared to the families that were living in their cars.

      The rents in California were very high and getting higher. The homeless population was increasing as a result. The parks were filling up with people like us who were desperately trying to find affordable places they could survive in. The state began to change the park rules in an effort eliminate the homeless from using those facilities. They changed the time limits, forbidding people from returning within the month to a park in the same county. We could work around it because our work was in different parts of the state, but some of the working poor who had jobs, couldn’t leave. Where would they go? The state wasn’t offering any alternatives, except public housing when it was available and that was only for people with children.

      I met a young single woman who told me that they would not let her into the low income housing. Then she had a stroke from working so hard trying to keep a roof over her head. That qualified her for a cheaper apartment, but that was quite a high price to pay to get one.

      There were other ways to obtain housing. A homeless man built a campfire to try and keep himself warm one night. The fire got out of control and burned down an entire neighborhood. The man was arrested and obtained a room in the local jail.

      There was another major fire in San Francisco. I read this account in one of the newspapers. A man who had lost his home in the fire was entering a convenience store when he was approached by a homeless woman. “Maybe now you’ll know what it feels like to be homeless,” she told him.

      The man, who was also a deacon in his church responded, “I have insurance. I’m not going to be homeless.”

     He missed the point completely.

      Was that homeless woman an angel sent to convey the Lord’s heart to one of His own? That deacon may have missed the punch line, but it didn’t get by me, because for the longest time during our journey I had felt the Lord’s hands upon me, moving me, directing me to study, to observe. “Look at this. Do you see? Have you noticed the pattern in all of this? What does this mean to you? How do you feel? You know how it feels to be homeless, don’t you? Do you know now what it means to identify with the poor?”

     I was beginning to suspect that was the plan all along; to remove our comfortable semi- middle class stability with a closer look at a different world, one that is never shut out of our Lord’s view.

      In the affluent community of Santa Barbara the son of one of the wealthy residents there, brutally beat a street man to death. This young man received a whopping six month sentence for cold blooded murder.

      Is this justice in America? Is the value of a life here determined by the size of a bank account?

      So another page is turned and my husband and I continued reading the signs. Our art work began to change and my husband started illustrating the faces and the needs we were seeing.
     All this was going on as the prosperity doctrine began to weave its way though some of the churches. “God gave me my Mercedes!” one man proclaimed. I thought, no, God got you a lot of money and you decided to blow it on a Mercedes. There’s a difference. God is eager to fill our outstretched hands, but for what purpose? What is this prosperity for? There are 2300 Scriptures that deal with God’s care for the poor and needy. It is a major issue in His word, but is it a major issue in our hearts?

      Twenty-four years have passed since those days in California. We are still on the road, and I am still watching, observing, being led by God to new illustrations in the highways and the streets. Did you know that there are many people who are living in the woods by the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, because the affluent community they live in refuses to provide a homeless shelter?

      If I had not lost my home, if I had not been tossed out of my comfortable self-centered existence, I never would have known God’s heart the way I do now. I know what it means to have no money, and I know how it feels when someone who cares is willing to help. And I know how it feels when a door is slammed in my face.

      Sometimes you can get so low you can’t get back up without help from someone. God wants us to be that someone who is willing to provide for another’s need.

      When there is a major, obvious natural disaster people rush to help. But there are lots of less obvious disasters that are happening every day right in your neighborhood. Every time someone loses a spouse or is facing eviction, or loses a job, this is their earthquake, this is their devastating storm. It’s not on the news, but it’s on their faces and they are walking by our elaborately appointed houses of worship wondering if anyone in there is going to respond to these immeasurable tragedies of the heart.

      God is testing us and He is watching to see who will pass His final exam – “If you have done it one of the least of these, My brethren, you have done it unto Me.”

     Then shall the King say to them on His right hand,“Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was hungry and you gave me food: I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and you took Me in: naked and you clothed Me: I was sick, and you visited Me: I was in prison, and you came to Me. Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and fed You? or thirsty, and gave You drink? When did we see You a stranger and took You in? or naked and clothed You? Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And the King shall answer and say to them,” Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it to Me.” – Matthew 25:34-40

What distinguishes a nation from Third World status is the level of care it bestows to its poor. - H.D. Shively

There are hundreds of Scriptures in God's Holy word that deal with His concern for the poor and needy. As it is a major issue in the Scriptures,so it must be a major issue in our hearts.

We can't preach the Gospel with empty hands.

ORDER "Jesus and the Poor"

H. Deborah Shively is a Bible Scholar and a speaker who has been in full-time ministry for over twenty-five years. She has had the privilege of "teaching the teachers" on many occasions and views herself as a servant to the servants, with a passionate desire to feed God's sheep and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.