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Live Deep: Reach Out to the Poor

  • Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2009 2 Jan
Live Deep: Reach Out to the Poor

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of John B. Hayes' recent book, Sub-Merge: Living Deep in a Shallow World: Service, Justice, and Contemplation Among the World’s Poor, (Regal Books, 2006). 

Poverty is on display constantly in the news. It’s as far away as a distant continent and as close as your local city. But the sheer magnitude of the problem can overwhelm and paralyze you if you don’t see beyond poverty as an issue and get to know poor people themselves. When you build relationships with people living in poverty, you’ll begin to see that you can fight the monster of poverty by making a difference in individual lives.

Here’s how you can reach out to the poor:

* Think in terms of people, not programs. Realize that, while organized programs do provide valuable services to the poor, programs can only go so far. Understand that meaningful relationships can do what programs can’t – provide the support, encouragement, and accountability that lead to lasting change over time. Ask God to help you view poor people as individual souls you can befriend, instead of just a demographic group. Instead of looking for large-scale projects, look into the faces of people you want to love and empower and begin building relationships with them.

* Join God where He is already at work. Rather than just jumping into an effort to serve poor people, ask God to direct you to focus on the specific people He wants you to help. Don’t approach your service with your own agenda; invite God to show you what He is already doing in poor people’s lives and how you can participate in that work.

* Go deeper. Don’t settle for the type of shallow life that our culture often celebrates. Pray for the courage to live with a deeper faith. Make time to truly get to know your neighbors and others around you. Build deeper relationships that will lead to significant transformation. Instead of focusing on just making a living as best you can, choose work that will help you live out your core values and contribute to the world in the ways God wants you to do so. Trust that if you invest your time and talents pursuing the right type of work, God will provide for all your financial needs and you will ultimately be much more fulfilled than if you were in a job that’s wrong for you. Follow God’s calling in all your work – both paid and volunteer – so you can make the difference He wants you make.

* Consider moving to a poor neighborhood. Know that you can make the greatest impact on poor people by submerging yourself into their world, just as Jesus submerged Himself from heaven to earth through His incarnation. Think and pray about whether God might want you to move to a poor area – such as from the suburbs to the inner city – and begin ministering to the poor as one of them. Earn the right to be heard. Make time to learn their culture, history, how they communicate, and all else that is most important to them so you can earn their trust and make a powerful difference in their lives. Join them to bear their burdens and celebrate their victories together. Work for positive change from the inside out. Partner with people God has already placed in the neighborhood. Know that if you sense God leading you to serve the poor by living among them, all the risks (danger, disease, lack of privacy, etc.) will be worthwhile taking to do the work He’s calling you to do. Trust God to meet all your needs.

* Consider a short-term mission trip. If you don’t sense God’s call to relocate to a poor neighborhood, think and pray about traveling to one and staying long enough to complete a certain project and build meaningful relationships with people there.


* Learn from the poor. Approach your ministry efforts humbly. Recognize that God values poor people just as much as He does you, and in fact, He identifies especially with the poor. Realize that you can learn as much from poor people as they can learn from you. Ask God to give you the character (not just the skills) you need to live and work among the poor effectively. Allow the poor people you serve to serve you by helping you grow more spiritually and emotionally mature.

* Check how you’re investing your life. Regularly take stock of how you’re spending your time and energy. Ask yourself whether you’re primarily chasing wealth or pursuing God. Remember to seek God first, and all your other needs will fall into place. Live a simple and responsible lifestyle, following biblical principles of stewardship. Avoid consumerism and rely on God more for all your needs. Make sure that you’re modeling the kind of life you want to show poor people who are watching you.

* Persevere. Expect that it likely will take longer than you’d like to see the positive changes you’re hoping for among the poor people you serve. Get rid of unrealistic expectations for quick fixes and ask God to help you be patient and keep serving, even when you don’t see many people come to faith or build healthier lives. Be content to work without accolades from others. Keep on loving the people to whom you’re ministering, know that God will honor your efforts and use them at the right time and in the right way. Count on the fact that God will magnify the power of even your smallest efforts, so that, ultimately, the return on your investment will be much higher than you can imagine.

* Fight shame. Help poor people overcome the shame that often plagues them and find their confidence in God’s love for them. Understand that people who are physically poor are not necessarily also poor in spirit. Don’t pity poor people; view them as equals who simply have less material goods than you do. Let the poor know that not only has God not forgotten them, but Jesus Himself identifies with them. Always respect the dignity of the poor people with whom you work. Know that, while our society often views poor people as insignificant, they are extremely important and valuable to God.

* Don’t neglect prayer and giving. While working to build genuine friendships with poor people, remember to pray for them regularly and give generously to support ministries that serve their needs. Know that, while friendships are vital, so are ongoing prayer, financial giving, and volunteerism.

* Make Jesus your model. Regularly remind yourself of how Jesus embraced poor people and the sacrifices He made. Pray for the grace to emulate His loving, humble attitude. Take His example seriously as you go about your own ministry to the poor.

* Recognize that your work is also worship. Keep in mind that the work you’re doing among poor people – doing justice and sharing mercy – is not just a way of loving them, but also God. Know that as you show your devotion to the poor, you’re expressing your devotion to God, as well. Allow the experience to transform you into a more spiritually mature person.

* Keep a journal of your experiences. Write down how God is working through you as you minister to the poor. Regularly record your thoughts and feelings about your service in a journal. Go back to read it often, to renew your sense of purpose.


* Be creative. Think of innovative ways to reach out to the poor people around you. You may consider helping them start small businesses that help them pursue their interests and use their talents, opening your home for meals and Bible studies, or buying art supplies and inviting children to come by your place to express themselves through art. As you get to know the people with whom you’re working, let them suggest specific ways they’d like help. Respond to the needs they express, rather than your own agenda.

* Take prayer walks. Go to poor neighborhoods and walk around while praying for the people who live there.

* Build a strong sense of community. Work with poor people and others who are serving them to combine your talents and skills in an effective synergy. Let your common commitments, shared values, and collective purpose produce a sense of community that leads to close friendships. Learn from and depend on each other.

* Take time out for contemplation. Regularly break away from the stress and pressures you’re facing to shift your focus away from doing and toward just being. Schedule some time to think and pray in solitude and silence, to renew your soul. Observe the Sabbath day each week, meditate, fast, and take retreats when you can.

* Learn from suffering. Stand with the poor in the midst of their suffering, and be willing to listen to and support them as they deal with it. Don’t minimize the suffering you see them experience. Help them discover the lessons their suffering can teach them when they respond to it by pursuing God more. Allow your own suffering to drive you closer to God.

* Love unconditionally. Understand that some poor people will not be nice, and not all will appear worthy, deserving, or respectful – yet God calls you to love them anyway. Remember that Jesus stopped for poor people in need, no matter how unpleasant they seemed. Ask God to help you reach out to all poor people He puts in your path. Invite God to let His unconditional love for them to flow through you into their lives.

Adapted from Sub-Merge: Living Deep in a Shallow World: Service, Justice, and Contemplation Among the World’s Poor, copyright 2006 by John B. Hayes.  Published by Regal Books, Ventura, Ca., www.regalbooks.com.

John B. Hayes has had a lifelong interest in the needs of the poor. He and his wife Deanna are general directors of InnerCHANGE, a mission order that works among the poor in five countries sharing the good news in words and works through personal relationships. In the summer of 1984, he relocated his family to the poorest, most overcrowded street in Southern California at the time. He was determined to launch a holistic ministry that establishes its personnel in the inner city to minister inside-out. The Hayes and their two daughters, Savannah and Alexandra, later moved to the inner city of San Francisco and now live in one of the poorest neighborhoods in London, England. John graduated from Princeton and received his Masters in International Relations from Yale.