What Changed?

A friend recently asked me what changed in my life that caused me to focus on social justice issues.

I will admit I have not always been concerned about the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized in our community. I use to be judgmental and look at some people on the lower end of the socio-economical scale as lazy and uneducated. I saw them as people who made bad choices and who were personally responsible for their circumstances. I thought if they had been as responsible, and as hard a worker as myself, then they could get out of their pitiful situation. Under no circumstance would I give a homeless person money because “they will just by beer with it”; and if I ever did give a person money to pay a utility bill, if I found out they did something else with it, something “unwise,” then they would never get help from me again.

But I’m not like that anymore. I am more compassionate and more understanding. I see the system behind the person that keeps them trapped. I see the obstacles they face that I did not face. I understand the privileged condition in which I grew up. I see the injustice and I see the discrimination given to people of different classes and ethnicities than myself.

So, what changed? What opened my eyes?

First, I became friends with people different from me. I got to know them. They invited me into their lives. I saw their struggles from the inside. I listened to their stories. I saw the person behind the poverty. I saw the human being behind the addiction. I saw the soul behind the marginalized. And by seeing them, I saw myself.

Second, I went on a mission trip to a third-world country. What I experienced on that first trip shook me to my knees. I saw poverty and sickness and wealth and privilege in a new light. Every summer I return to that same third-world country, and I take people with me. I tell everyone one of them, after their trip, “After seeing absolute poverty up close, if you return to the comfort of your own home and don’t see the poor and marginalized in your own community, then you wasted your money and time going on a mission trip.”

Third, I started reading the Bible through the lens of justice. Guess what? The Bible says more about social justice issues than it does about most other issues. Simply put, if the gospel is not good news for the poor then it is not good news for anyone.

Fourth, I educated myself by reading and talking and, in my case, teaching sociology. The impact teaching sociology at a community college where most of the students come from difficult backgrounds cannot be overemphasized.

I try not to live with regrets. But one of my main regrets is that I wasted so many years of my ministry concerned about things that really are not the concern of God. In the words of Mother Teresa, “If you want to know where Jesus is, go to the poor. You will always find Him there.”

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About Pastor Kevin

I am a husband, father, pastor, teacher, scuba diver, reader, bike rider...in that order.
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5 Responses to What Changed?

  1. Nic says:

    I have experienced similar change in my thoughts. It’s mainly because of the various parts of the world I’ve visited (army and missions). Combine that with my Bible education and my eyes have been opened to what compassion really is. I’m a pretty hard conservative with my upbringing. I like things the way they are to be the way things have been – and if they change, they do so for my comfort… Simple fact: Christianity is a social religion. There needs to be a lot of change in how the Church in large is dealing with social justice because, as of right now, its still about us and not about others. It’s not about those people for which Christ came – the sick and hurting.

      • Nic says:

        You’re welcome. You should have seen the eyes on people when I mentioned in class not long ago that Christianity is a social religion and as such that means we should be taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves.

        (For any one else out there thinking about this…) Think of it this way: If believers were actually doing what the Bible called us to do for others, there would be no room for socialism as a political stand point. Furthermore, think of the positive ramifications it would have on evangelism.

  2. Len Scott says:

    Kev,
    For me, too, it was a trip to another country. Seeing real poverty up close woke me up. I saw people who had no easy access to clean water. I saw lives stuck in poverty with no hope of ever getting out because the system was so stacked against them. And when I came back to TN I started noticing the homeless population less than a mile from our church.

    Another contributing factor was a sermon I heard in Chicago at Moody Bible Institute. The speaker was Gary Haugen of IJM. I remember during that him pointing out injustice was the second most mentioned sin in the Bible (idolatry is first). God hates injustice and, therefore, I should too.

    Probably my biggest regret in ministry is not getting out of my comfort zone much earlier and ministering to the poor.

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