words Jessica Sowards
A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to preach at Soul Food Café, a mission outreach in Conway, AR. It was one of those times where, despite my best efforts, I had been completely unable to come up with a message to give. Nada. Zilch. Nothing.
So when they handed me the microphone, I simply said “My name is Jessica,” and started to pray, knowing it would be good because it would be all on God.
It was. It was a good message. But when I think about that day, any words that came from my mouth pale in comparison to the juggernaut that sat before me. Poverty. That oppressive thing. Big, ugly, stinking, sucking poverty.
You know, I can’t stop thinking about it. Every Tuesday this place opens and feeds hundreds of people. They come in because they are in a shelter, or a rehab, or because they are simply having a hard time making the budget stretch until the next paycheck. They get a hot plate of food and a box of items donated from grocery stores with expiration dates that have since passed.
Volunteers in red t-shirts serve beans or spaghetti or garlicky bread and they pack boxes or cut hair or pray. And every week, the people come. Because they have needs that are not met and they hear of a place full of people willing to meet them.
Most go for the spaghetti, not Jesus. But they find Him anyway.
They told me to be prepared for a loud audience. They told me I might have to hush them up, because they came for the spaghetti and they’d be in line to get it. I didn’t have to hush them though, and they weren’t loud. They were too captivated by the words being spoken over them. I saw it. I saw the tears in their eyes as God used me to tell them, “You are a masterpiece. You are an heir to the kingdom. You are a child of a King. You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.”
I preached twice, prayed with half a dozen people, ate a plate of spaghetti and left in awe of what strong truth will do for lost and hurting people. Then I went home, got on Facebook and within just a few minutes, I had come across a news story with a long line of comments dogging welfare recipients and thugs and all sorts of the people that I had just preached to. Of course, the world is broken. Of course, these comments shouldn’t shock me and they wouldn’t if they were made by the broken world. What bothered me was the fact that many of these comments came from professed Christians. I walked away from the computer without commenting, but I’m still being haunted by the juxtaposition of that hour.
My friend Jennifer cuts hair in the back room of Soul Food. She sits addicts down in her chair and makes them feel like people again. She sits down men and women two weeks out of the state pen and makes them feel value again. They get haircuts they would not be able to afford otherwise. They are made presentable to obtain jobs and a chance at a new beginning. More importantly, they also get the gospel. They receive healing. They get delivered. Because they meet Jesus, obviously. But they meet Him through Jennifer. They meet Him because someone took the initiative to show them what love looks like by giving them something they couldn’t afford without expecting anything in return. Do you know how many people are bewildered by that concept?
We’re so comfortable, this nation. I wonder how many Christians click on celebrity news stories about sex changes and divorces, but walk by homeless men needing a dollar or a prayer. What are we turning our heads and reaching our hand to? Is it Jesus?
I don’t mean to be condemning. I really don’t. Unfortunately, the action of humans is condemning enough. We live in a country so consumed with want, that need goes unmet right under our noses. Yeah, I’ve heard the arguments. They had choices to make. They screwed up. They made their bed.
But telling them to lie in that bed is not a Christian concept.
One of the women I prayed with at Soul Food was named Shirley. I took her in the back and we talked for a while. She’s been clean for a month, but there’s no security in the shelter she’s living in, so the money she’s trying to save keeps getting stolen. As we prayed, I opened my eyes and noticed an oozing scab on her knee dripping blood down onto her low, white sock. She must have been wearing them for a couple of days based on the color of the blood stains. I noticed how small her feet were, so much smaller than my own feet, which I have always considered average. I don’t pay for pedicures like so many of my friends, but when I looked down and saw my clean, plain feet in one hundred dollar Birkenstocks® next to hers in her bloody socks, my heart was grief-stricken. Why do I have so much?
Shirley was molested for the first time at age nine when her mother used to make deals with the neighbor for her to go over to visit while his sons came to do yard work. She’s fifty-nine now, and she didn’t want me to pray for her to get more money or to get a new car or to have a great new job or a husband or any of the things we privileged Christians might petition God for. No. Shirley asked for me to pray for her to be able to sleep at night.
So I did.
And then I went home and saw professed Christians making comments about welfare rats and white trash. And I didn’t comment, but I am now.
How dare you talk about Shirley like that? How dare you say such Christ-less things, you with your computer with internet and your clean socks and your childhood where you weren’t prostituted to the neighbor in exchange for someone to mow the lawn? Was it really her choices? And if it was, does it really matter?
Didn’t Jesus say to feed His sheep? Didn’t He say to do it for the least? Are you using your privilege to follow that command or are you staying comfortable?
The brokenness of the world is an opportunity for those who know Jesus to introduce Him to others. The brokenness of our world screams the need for revival and love and a savior. And it is up to us to be the conduit for that.
There aren’t enough Christians willing to leave their comfort zone and love people. Even though they know that’s exactly what Jesus did for them. While we were still sinners, He left His throne and loved us. He bandaged up our scabby knees and pulled us from our poverty. And He loved us first so we could then love others in return.
Open your eyes. Quiet your opinion. Reach out your hand.
When you do it for the least of them, you do it for Him.