I’ve just returned from a mission trip to work with people living in extreme poverty. I experienced firsthand that extreme poverty produces great spiritual fruit. Paul wrote about this to the church in Corinth. Describing their faith Paul writes: And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity (2 Corinthians 8:1-2).
This is the way I saw many of the Christian women I met on our trip. One home stood out beyond them all. Last year a small team of leaders traveled to this village on a vision trip. We made many stops at neighborhood homes carrying overflowing bags of groceries. This year we returned to a home that we had visited the year before. You couldn’t forget this home because it was so full of children and moms working, playing, living together while forging the best life possible. It was impossible to know to whom each child belonged because they intermingled their lives in this rented space of seemingly unplanned structure. The home didn’t have electricity, daily water and other basics. An open fire in the kitchen roasted the meal that would be served that day. The year before we had brought them baby blankets (they had quite a number of babies) and we saw some hanging on the clothesline.
We only had one bag of groceries, the same amount we had left earlier at a home of a single mom and three sons. It was blaringly obvious that the ladies remembered those of us who had been there before and they were eager for us to return. I discovered later that the mother-in-law and matriarch of the home, who had lost her husband two years earlier, had invited a friend to meet us too. She was so eager to receive us as her honored guests. With so many women and children, our team of seven had many simultaneous conversations. I was chatting with the lady of the home and she was eager to answer my questions. As I turned to the conversation about faith, her face lit up and she exclaimed, “Will you please pray for us again! Last time you were here and prayed for our baby he was healed.” She arranged for the particular baby she wanted prayer to come over and I prayed for his healing as his mom, her children were instructed to gather round. Finally, what she had been hoping and waiting for was going to take place. She wasn’t eager for the groceries or any gifts we could leave, she was honored to have us visit her home, and most of all she wanted prayer.
I happened to get sick on that trip. My illness wiped me out and I could not do the rest of the work. While I was in pain and suffering, I could not get the things that I needed to get well. I just wanted a cup of tea and I waited several hours for one small cup and no more. I didn’t have access to the bland food I needed to eat and what I was eating was giving me strength but keeping me sick. I thought of the children in this home and how cut off they are from what they need to get better. The basics I rely on were not available to them. For example, while we were there our leader told the mom about the clinic that is free to her, but it was as if she was telling her to climb Mount Everest because she lacked the resources to make a trip to that place. I was grateful for my illness because in my pain it reminded me to pray for this family and all the others who had illness without even natural treatments from food easily available to them.
As I prayed, I realized the wisdom of the matriarch of this home. She was discerning by gleaning what was most valuable from our team. She accepted the groceries with gratitude, but she lavished in our presence and in our prayers. In her poverty she prioritized prayer above all other resources to cure illness and distress. Her smile and love and gratitude come to mind as I write. Her spiritual wealth exposed my own poverty. I can’t think of the last time I was so eager to have a guest in my home that I invited a friend to come and watch when they pray for me. She was a woman of great faith. What can be worth more than faith?