Our Role with the Poor and Marginalized
by Bob Rose

        All of my life--more years than I want to admit--I have been torn between two particular approaches or viewpoints toward the poor and marginalized in America. One is the conservative (piety/morality) position versus the liberal (compassion/justice) position. Now that Harris Chapel Church, under the direction of our minister, has launched a program to determine our role and focus in dealing with the problems of the poor and marginalized within our sphere of influence, I am finding I no longer am confident one side is all correct and the other is all wrong. I am convinced both sides are right and both sides are wrong. Now if you aren't thoroughly confused already then continue to read and I am sure I will be successful before I'm through.
        Our current program is in the infant stage at present, but I'm hoping with constant prayer and God's guidance we can quickly reach some clear decisions and begin to develop some initiatives that reflect God's desires and are effective in dealing with this huge problem. Once we began to deal with this issue, we were pleased to discover that not only were we concerned with this problem, but our entire Methodist conference was already addressing the issue, and our pastor provided us with volumes of information on how to begin our work. I probably should have known this already, but have to admit I was pretty much uninformed on both the depth and passion to which our conference had addressed this issue.
        First, let me start with some statements made by Bishop Kenneth L. Carder: "The Bible clearly affirms God's presence with and care for the impoverished. In Jesus Christ, God has chosen to so closely identify with the most vulnerable human beings that what is done to them is done to God. The impoverished are central to God's concern and mission. As an instrument of God's mission, the church can no more neglect relationship with the poor than it can neglect worship. The Bible has taught me that I cannot know God apart from the poor and vulnerable. God is calling the United Methodist Church to recover its Biblical and historic roots among the poor, who are both recipients and means of God's grace. My prayer is that every church in the Tennessee Conference will be shaped by the Bible's witness to the God who loves and serves the poor." I agree with our bishop that God is calling both the United Methodist Church and each of us individually to actively move forward in this area.
        We are a very small church and realize we cannot change the world, but we can certainly begin by changing the lives of one deserving family merely by praying and listening for direction from God. Above all, though, we need to hear God and without delay begin to implement his desires and wishes. We already have identified our family and are well on our way. We are praising God already for the successes we are experiencing.  We discovered a family right under our nose that was virtually penniless and with only enough food for another day or two.
        This is certainly a sad situation for anyone to experience, but what we have already accomplished for this family pales when compared to what they have done for us. Our church has always been a praying and giving church , and we had everyone (Men's Group, Covenant Keepers, Youth Group, and Women's Group) locked in and praying for this family. At the same time food and money began to flow through a designated representative to them. They had neither the expertise or support personnel to even get on food stamps. Tomorrow they begin to receive $506. in food credits. We realize that government is not the solution to draining the swamp, but it can certainly be a good assist in beating off some of the alligators. It will take, in my opinion, a major effort by both the public and private sectors to eventually overcome this problem. It will benefit neither side to waste valuable time debating the conservative versus liberal ideology.
        Our real objective should be to combat poverty, not each other. Mark 8:36 states: "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?" We do not need to lose sight of this wisdom and truth, but it is difficult to minister to the spiritual side when the physical side is either cold or hungry or both. The church bears a responsibility on both sides. This is why it is so important that our ministers are actively involved in this process. Laymen may be able to solve physical problems, but we need all the help we can get when it comes to spiritual commitment.

Harris Chapel is a long way from being there, but with God's help our journey won't be as long as it has been.

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