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Heart Matters: Poverty of a Different Kind

I must be a slow learner. It took me three books before I saw the connection. My daughter recommended the first two books, Angela's Ashes and The Color of Water. My son had to read the third book, Make Lemonade, for a high school proficiency test. The fourth book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, practically jumped off the library shelf at me. The last one is a classic I should've read years ago -- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

What's the connection? Each of these books is about children -- children who live in poverty, children who go without decent food or warm clothing or proper medical care, children who have been damaged, children who suffer. As I read each of these books, something nagged at my soul. What was it?

I serve in an upper-middle-class suburban church. None of our children suffers from poverty. Was God telling me that we should open a food bank or plan a clothing drive? Should we be more actively involved in the inner city? I pondered. I prayed. I struggled through a difficult season in the life of our church, and finally I understood why God had me read those five books.

God wanted me to see that the children in my church do live in poverty. It's not material poverty. They have plenty of warm clothes and the latest CDs and video games. But they live with other kinds of poverty -- poverty of morals, character, discipline, and commitment. They often lack biblical knowledge and Christian fellowship.

Do I see this poverty in the children themselves? Are they a band of spiritual delinquents? No, they're a wonderful group of kids. Where, then, is the poverty?

It's in the culture around them, inside and outside the church. It's poverty evidenced in pastors who commit adultery, politicians who lie, coaches who mistreat players, churches that misrepresent the Word of God, parents who choose sports practices over worship, and Christians who ignore their friends' needs.

This litany of cultural woes might lead us to think that our children have no hope but to be consumed by this poverty. This doesn't need to be their destiny! I know because I read those five books. I read about children who rose above their circumstances, who brought beauty out of ashes, who dug down deep and found the strength to thrive -- not just survive.

Where did that strength come from? For Ruth McBride Jordan, it came from Jesus. Her son describes in The Color of Water how God transformed an emotionally scarred Jewish girl into a woman who founded a Baptist church and raised 12 children to become doctors, professors, and teachers -- despite financial hardship, racial discrimination, and the loss of two husbands. Jesus made the difference in her physical need and spiritual emptiness.

The wonder of Jesus is that he came to eradicate spiritual poverty and fill our souls with his glorious riches. He came so that children could experience full and God-pleasing lives in the midst of cultural want. Children can rise above the poor examples set before them as the Holy Spirit shapes their hearts. They can become committed, disciplined, and spiritually rich people as the Word of God is hidden in their minds.

How? Ruth McBride Jordan tells us how: "You need foresight. And vision. You got vision?...Well, if you don't have it, don't waste God's time."

I certainly don't want to waste God's time. So I come boldly before the Lord and say, "Give me foresight. Grant me vision. Show me the poverty our children face. Use me to bless them with your glorious riches."

Kathy Brace is the children's ministry director at Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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