Life on earth requires grace to be in the reality of sin. I never feel this more intensely than when I return from a mission trip to a country where poverty and human suffering are experienced in far more extreme ways than I see here in America.
The living conditions I experience up close and personal turn my stomach with sorrow and pity. It’s only after I meet the individuals, the children, the workers, that I discover the power of grace. Amidst the smells, the squalor and the absence of common decencies, there is an aura of grace that sheds light that makes the impoverished conditions have a golden glow.
Often the richest person is impoverished compared to the poor. I see this in the way the children respond to a simple sticker or a small balloon. The joy they receive from the smallest gift is humbling and blissful to experience. There is a gift of grace from having little. There are fewer worries about robbery or jealousy. The honor of the relationship between individuals has a higher value than the material possession given.
Working in slums and shanty towns is grace-filled work. Don’t get me wrong, they are dangerous and disease-infested places for sure. The incidence of alcoholism is higher there amidst the despair of life. Sexual crimes go unreported because they are so common. It is definitely not a comfortable place. It is only the hope of Christ that brings this graceful glow to the harsh conditions.
You might feel that you have nothing to offer the children who will most likely never live above the poverty line. Yet when you bring them Christ, you bring them the grace to be in their reality. The hope of eternal life brings hope to live right where they are now.
We can each live in this grace to be in our own reality. I know that I receive grace to face what each new day brings even though I can be pretty sure I will have a roof over my head and food to eat and even air conditioning to make me comfortable. No one’s reality is without a need for grace. When we recognize this grace, we are able to live in our reality with the same joy I saw in the faces of the children when I gave them a sticker. And more than that, I experience the joy their faces displayed when they gave me a simple flower and greeting of welcome to their classroom.
Ruth Myers paraphrases Paul’s words well when she writes: Thank You that Your Son will return from heaven with a shout of triumph, that the dead in Christ will be raised imperishable…and in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, we shall all be utterly changed. We shall see the radiance of His face and the glorious majesty of His power. It will be a breathtaking wonder and splendor unimaginable to all who believe! Thank You that whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future You planned for us. (1 Thessalonians 4:16 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Romans 8:18)[i]
May you experience the grace to be in your reality and live it as fully as an impoverished child receiving a sticker!
[i] Ruth Myers, 31 Days of Praise (Random House, New York: 1994) p. 50-51.