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Jesus’ ‘distressing disguise:’ finding him among the poor

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Jesus told his disciples: “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me: I was in prison, and you came to Me.
“Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25:35,36,40 NASB).
Mother Teresa, this dying century’s most eloquent model of ministry to the “poorest of the poor,” took Jesus’ words quite literally.
For her, every hungry person, leper, orphan, refugee, every unborn and unwanted child, was “Jesus in his distressing disguise.” The more distressing the disguise, the greater the need for our love.
Loving Christ and obeying his command to serve the poor motivated her ministry — not a diluted social gospel or politicized theology. She had a short response to critics who asked why her Missionaries of Charity weren’t more political: “We are missionaries, not social workers.”
That’s a philosophy another missionary with a tiny frame and a towering vision lived and died by: Lottie Moon. As a practical matter, she fasted unto death as she gave herself to the physically and spiritually starving people of China.
“Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God,” was the life prayer of Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision. As Jesus wept over the lost sheep of Israel, Lottie wept for the lost, hungry Chinese millions.
That spirit still lives among Christians who opened their hearts and pocketbooks when Hurricane Mitch devastated the people of Honduras and Nicaragua last year. Already among the poorest people of this hemisphere, Hondurans and Nicaraguans saw much of their meager existence swept from the face of the earth. Southern Baptists didn’t turn away from their suffering.
Yet the people of Honduras and Nicaragua at least have relatively free access to the gospel of Christ. Most of the 1 billion-plus people worldwide who live in absolute poverty don’t.
“To survive on Earth, you’ve got to have food and water,” explains mission strategist Justin Long. “That’s why it’s so shocking that more than a billion people live in absolute poverty. All are permanently malnourished; more than 400 million live on the verge of starvation. They have dangerously unsafe water and bad sanitation, inadequate shelter, and no access to medical care.
“An almost identical situation exists in [access to] Christianity. Today more than a billion people live in a state of dire spiritual poverty. They have never heard of Christ, nor of the good news of salvation, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace.”
The poorest of the poor in the visible realm largely mirror the poorest of the poor in the spiritual realm. Why minister to the poor and hurting? Because God commands it — and because the “least of these” are overwhelmingly lost.
More than 75 percent of the world’s poorest people live among people groups still unreached by the gospel, reported Bill Cashion of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board during a conference on hunger and “ministry evangelism” last fall.
That means as many as three out of four of the 15 million or more people who die around the world each year of hunger and hunger-related diseases die without even hearing about the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
“In terms of human life, this is our most pressing issue,” stressed Steve Nelson, director of hunger concerns for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Hunger ministry is one of the keys to revival for the American church, and a key to revival in our world.”
Added Cashion: “Our Lord Jesus Christ was always involved in ministry evangelism. If we’re to obey the Word of God, we dare not ignore human need. God rewards the kind of obedience” that teaches and preaches and, at the same time, heals and feeds.
“To have one without the other is biblically subnormal.”

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges