I am an American. And, as an American I was born and raised in the wealthiest country in the world. A country so full of opportunities that almost anyone can grab hold of the "American Dream". I grew up in white affluent communities. My parents worked hard and we always had nice things. Always a nice home, swimming pool, new cars, vacations, and lots of food. We were never without want or need. Likewise as an adult, I too had this same lifestyle. New homes, swimming pool, food, new gadgets, cars, vacations, and lots of money. My family have never been without want or need. It can be very easy to live in excess in America, and we did.
Rarely did we see poverty in America. Occasionally I would see the homeless man on the side of the street begging for work or money. And, I heard of poor neighborhoods in America, but we somehow always managed to avoid these areas. But, I really never have seen poverty on a systemic or mass level. It is my belief that most Americans, generally speaking, are well taken care of when it comes to economic stability. Thanks to a government that genuinely cares for its citizens and for a generous and hard working people who make up the American society.
But, in 2008 I experienced something that I will never forget. To this day it still remains ingrained in my heart and mind. It has forever changed my life and how I now view people, priorities, charity, and serving God.
I went on a short term missions trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We served an elusive people called "people of the dump" who worked, lived, and breathed in the city trash dump. Men, women, children, and babies who make the city trash dump their home. When I first entered into this large community I was overcome with emotion. I couldn't believe something like this really existed. It resembled something akin to what hell would look like. Mountains of trash with people rummaging in it and through it. Cows feeding off the refuse and buzzards hovering overhead. Flies by the thousands swarming around people including little children as they gathered recyclables. The stench was overwhelming and I could do all that I could from heaving whatever food remained in my stomach.
There before my eyes was a young little Honduran girl who looked to be five years old. She was knee deep in trash, and she stuck both of her arms deep into the trash heap before her. Her arms were covered in what looked like either mud or feces, or both... who knows. Her hair was matted and she wore tattered rags for clothing.
I couldn't help but think of my five year old daughter back at home in America.
Prancing through our big clean home with a princess dress on and a bow in her shiny blonde hair.
Thinking to myself that this little Honduran girl before my eyes could have been my daughter. My Morgan Victoria could have been this little girl living in a hellish trash heap and thinking this is all life has to offer.
Why are some people born into excessive poverty and others born into great affluence?
More so, as I cried out to God, even in anger, how can this be?
Why God did YOU let this happen?
Why do I have such privilege and comfort and others have NOTHING?
Why? Why? Why?
Then God spoke to me.
It seemed quite audible to me.
"I want you to give up everything you have and go and serve the poor".
My heart was changed. God and this little Honduran girl changed my life forever.
And, here we are now living and serving the least of these in the urban poor of Tirana Albania.
But, this story is not about me. This story is actually about Jesus.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
I want to give you a glimpse into the life of Jesus. The King. Our King.
Jesus became poor by leaving the riches of His home in heaven to be on earth and become one of us.
When Jesus was born, He was born into poverty as parents of refugees. They had no home. Jesus was more or less born in a cavernous barn, with animals, stench, and manure. Throw out any lovely pictures you have of baby Jesus in a perfect manger. It wasn't like that.
Not much is known about Jesus from childhood to adulthood. But, we do know He lived in a town called Nazareth. And, Nazareth was known to be a poor town and not of good repute. In fact, one of the disciples once declared, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46)
When Jesus was much older, perhaps 30ish, Jesus first began his ministry by going into a synagogue and reading from the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened upon him. He said to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)
One day, one of Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus where he will sleep. Jesus said to him, “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)
And another day a wealthy young man came to Jesus and said, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He said to Him, “Which ones?”
Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not lie, ’Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
The young man said to Him, “No problem. All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)
A week or so before Jesus’ arrest, He rode into Jerusalem as a King, not in a royal Mercedes sedan, but in a clunkety old Ford Pinto. Actually, it was a donkey.
Does all of this sound like the life of a royal king?
There are many more examples that tell of the poverty of Jesus and His love for the poor. So, why do I share these things with you? Because those of us who are poor should know that our King, our risen and victorious King, himself was poor. He not only came for the poor, but lived among the poor, and loved the poor. It wasn't some temporary cause. It was His life.
So, why should this be good news to us?
Well, we now know that Jesus knows what it’s like to be poor and to be treated poorly. And, He like some of you, knows what it’s like to suffer, to be without, to have no home, or electricity, and treated unjustly by a corrupt government. He lived it.
But, the good news doesn’t stop there. Because of Jesus, life won’t always be like this. There is a richness in knowing Christ. There is an abundant life in following Jesus. And, an unspeakable joy that comes from Him.
Amid our sufferings, amid our poverty, amid our depression, amid our hopelessness and despair… there is a hope, joy, and peace that comes only through knowing and following Jesus.
For, when we come into union with Christ, our comfort, joy, and hope now rests in Him.
For we know our hope is not found in government. Not found in work. Not found in leke. Not found in a visa to America. Not found in friends or family. Not found in raki or beer. Not found in drugs. Our hope now and our future hope only comes from knowing and following Jesus, who will someday come, and establish His kingdom right here in what will be a new earth. For one day, the Bible says, the first will be last, and the last will be first in the kingdom of God. Someday there will be no pain, no suffering, no poverty, disease, or sickness. We will all be made whole and alive again in Christ. There will be a banquet table with a feast and a home with many rooms for you. There will be fields where the lion will lie with the lamb. And, evil will be forever restrained.
I want to leave you with this. I know many of you are struggling to make ends meet. Many of you wonder how you will pay your bills. Or, have enough leke to buy food for your family. Or wonder if you will have work. Or, to keep warm during the winters. The government and the police seem corrupt and don't seem to care. And, there doesn’t seem to be opportunities in Albania. It is difficult to live here. But, remember this… Jesus became poor so that you can become rich. Your sins are forgiven, you have eternal life, His kingdom has come, Jesus is Lord over all the earth, and you are loved by a holy God.