One of Jesus’ greatest challenges to us comes in Matthew 25:34-40.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
Serving as an S.D. Allen Summer Missionary for these past six weeks has given me a fuller view of what “the least of my brothers” look like. This summer I have been working at McKenzie Court, a government housing project. We partner with Tuscaloosa Urban Missions to do a summer long VBS for elementary and middle school aged students called Summer Hope. The West End of Tuscaloosa, specifically the McKenzie Court and Rosedale apartment communities are home to some of the most poverty-stricken people I have ever encountered. It is not easy to see kids sleeping without beds, walking around in shoes with holes, or missing meals because there simply is not enough food in the cabinet. However, this does not mean that it is not worth it or that there is nothing to learn here. That being said, here are a few things I have learned so far:
1. Just because these people have less does not mean they are less. In just a month I have seen some of the biggest smiles, heard the loudest laughs, and made some of the best memories. These kids never fail to surprise me. A few weeks ago, I legitimately lost a foot race to a 7-year-old. They know Bible verses and are eager to learn more. They know Bible stories and are usually attentive to listen to more. They want to be doctors and entrepreneurs. Some of them want to work at Zaxby’s or Taco Casa. Every single kid there loves hot Cheetos. Our first few Bible lessons were about the creation of the world. My favorite part of the narrative is when God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). We are all made in the same image. Just because someone looks differently than I do, or has a lifestyle that is foreign to me, does not mean they are loved any less by God or capable of any less than I am. Jesus says that He came to give us ABUNDANT life. The cool thing is that He gives that abundance in many ways. What the kids lack in material things, they more than make up for in the way they carry themselves and the joy they display.
2. People are hard to love. As a human being and especially as a Christian, I find it hard to learn not only how to love but also who to love. I always want to love and invest in those around me with whom I have easy connections, or those people who can give me benefits or make me feel good about myself. But when faced with difficult people, that’s when we run away back to that first kind of person, the easy person. Nowhere has this been more evident than at McKenzie Court this summer. Despite all of the fun and sweet moments we have with the children, sometimes they can be a little hard to handle. Sometimes they fight and cuss; sometimes they complain or are disrespectful. While it would be so easy to avoid these kids and be with the easy ones, these difficult people are the exact people we need to move intentionally toward. As hard as it is, we are called to constantly show humility and compassion to them and trust that the Lord will complete the good work He has begun in them. Every day, God is teaching me to be more patient and loving, and to bear with these kids even when it is extremely difficult.
3. I am the least of these. One of my favorite parables is the parable of the lost sheep. In the story, the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep to chase after the 1 sheep who has gone astray. I love this story so much because the shepherd declares a sheep, as helpless and as useless as is it, worthy of his pursuit. The best thing is that WE are the sheep and Jesus is the shepherd. If He is willing to pursue me, a broken vessel, to the point of giving His life, how much more so should we pursue the least of those around us??
These kids (and everyone else on earth) are worthy, not because of what they have or what they do, but because they are designed in the image of the Father for His glory. Loving God’s people was never supposed to be easy, but it was always going to be worth it. God is honored and our hearts are satisfied when we, who once were the least of these, love the least of our brothers.
- Phil Johnston