When you become the executive director of a non–profit that serves people in poverty, people sort of assume that you must be “good at serving” or that “must be your thing.” It makes sense. Don’t most of us pursue careers or goals or things we feel like we have a knack for?
However that is quite the opposite of my story. I was nominated for Most Feminine in high school and we all know what that really means… Most HIGH MAINTENANCE. The positive qualities would be the parts of me that love all things hair/makeup/fashion, but the truth of that title and the thoughts people had when marking my name on the ballot was probably:
- “least likely to go camping”
- “least likely to do a mud run or get their hands dirty”
- “last person on earth to change a tire.”
Sadly, all of those statements are valid facts that describe me. I like to say that I am a little on the dainty side and embrace my femininity. However, all of this also alludes to being the least likely to live in Africa, or a third world country, or hang out with homeless people.
This is where Jesus steps on the scene in all his paradoxical humor.
In fact, I have spent a significant amount of time in Africa– and other third world countries– and have close friends who are experiencing homelessness. The thing that changed was not that I became “really good at serving” and therefore made a career out of it. It was quite the opposite. I found myself asking Jesus for more of Him.
In my early twenties, I had jumped in with both feet into the church world. I wanted to be at every bible study and worship night that was available to me. I was feeding on podcasts and everything I could get my hands on. I wanted to do it all! But despite all of the “Christian stuff” I had stacked on to my résumé, I still wasn’t feeling satiated.
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
God very clearly told me that more of Him could be found with the least of these. The poor. The outcast. The downtrodden, the isolated, the ignored, the oppressed, the enslaved. Then when I read scripture, I was shocked! It’s everywhere. From the Old Testament to the New, God is calling His people out for how they treat the economically poor and the vulnerable groups at that time. God even got upset with His people for doing lots of good Christian things but neglecting to love and care for poor people- those who would not necessarily be found in the synagogues or our neighborhoods and churches today.
Isaiah 1: Why do you persist in rebellion? … “The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
Isaiah 58: Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.… “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
I didn’t start serving because I felt called per se; I was just so overwhelmed with conviction from God to pursue broken people, because I realized that I too am broken and impoverished. The Son of God came as a poor man, born to two poor teenagers. He had no place to lay his head, died with nothing but a robe to His name, and was resurrected from a borrowed tomb.
So when I think about how and why I started The NET, a full time gig doing something I am not exactly good at, where I walk in close relationship with friends experiencing poverty, I can only attribute that to God himself! I tell people all the time that I still get nervous on my way to the jail to meet a woman who sits across from me in a jumpsuit with a history of unspeakable sexual violence. I make awkward conversation with a street friend at our weekly homeless breakfast, and even after years of stepping into the broken and dark parts of my city, it is still something that I have to 100% trust God to do and rely on Him for.
So my encouragement to anyone who has wanted to serve the marginalized is to know that it is not for “Super Christians” who have tons of free time or something you necessarily have to be good at. It is my full time job, and I’m not that great at it. I just know how God feels about vulnerable and marginalized people from scripture, so I take baby steps to make it a priority in my life. Even if I still get nervous or awkward at times, I have to say there is no better feeling in the world than leaving a conversation with someone with whom I have nothing in common, feeling like I just experienced a taste of heaven. After all heaven, is a place where there will be no distinctions, no such thing as economic differences, but rather a group of all different kinds of people with different backgrounds, rescued and saved by the one true God who rights wrongs, restores brokenness and makes all things new!