A couple of years ago I reunited with cousins I hadn’t seen in decades. Since they were older, I hadn’t known them well when we were children, but I knew their parents, my aunts and uncles. Rekindling our relationships has been a surprising delight. I have discovered new friends and learned family history.
This weekend we gathered together to keep the relationships alive. Sunday, my cousin Don, a retired Methodist minister, shared a lesson the Lord taught him in seminary that I want to share with you.
As part of his training, Don was assigned to work at an Atlanta, GA homeless center for women and children. Don, a college athlete, says he and his fellow seminarian, a former tank commander from Desert Storm, approached their assignment with an air of superiority. They pictured reading stories and playing games with six to eight well-behaved young children. This would be easy.
Within minutes 23 screaming kids, ages four to fourteen, crammed into their small room. Greasy spaghetti hands tugged at their clothes and eyeglasses. The children began smashing toys and new crayons. Don told a small one, “Don’t break the toys.” The child began to cry, which summoned his large mother. With a look to kill, she told Don to back off. She snatched her son and left in a huff.
After two and a half hours of mayhem the two seminarians returned to campus. Anger replaced their initial shock. They were there to get a Master of Divinity degree, not to babysit. They would seek a new assignment on Monday.
That weekend both read Luke 16:19-21. “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.”
When they met on Monday they were changed men. Both had realized that they were like the rich man and the children were like poor Lazarus. The children were hungry because they had no daddy. They were covered with the sores of not knowing how to act. The seminarians wanted to “pass them by” and move on to something important, something more representative for a pastor.
The children were begging for crumbs of love. Would Don and his friend offer them?
With new eyes they returned to the homeless center. Don says this ministry became one of the highlights of seminary. For one and a half years Don and his friend loved these children and were loved in return.
Don’s story made me wonder, who are the poor I pass by each day? I hope the next time someone’s sores put me off, I will see the pain beneath them and find a way to help.
Those of us who have known the love of God are truly rich. How can I share God’s practical love with the needy around me?