There was a strange feel in the hot summer breeze – the kind of essence that brings goose bumps to your skin even in the heat of August. There we were, in Memphis, TN to see some of the sights. This was little over a month ago. We thought it would be cool to swing by this famous city and experience a bit of it ourselves. One of the places we went to was the National Civil Rights Museum, which is the old location of the Lorraine Hotel, the place where Martin Luther King was assassinated. My husband, brother and I decided to travel from Union Street on foot to the museum. The day was hot and muggy, as you can imagine the south in the summer. The journey on foot took us about 20 minutes. As we approached the block where the Lorraine Hotel is, the air suddenly felt different.
As we rounded the old brick wall, and spotted the front of the Lorraine Hotel, it was as if time stopped. There was the front of the hotel, still in its 60’s décor, with two replicas of the cars Martin Luther King and his crew traveled in. Looking up above you could see room 306, with a wreath of fresh flowers hanging on the hotel bannister in front of the place that Martin Luther King had breathed his last breath. It felt like sacred ground. We paused in that moment, sitting on some grass in the parking lot, and had a few moments of silence. We hadn’t even entered the museum yet, and already the place pinged a resonance in my heart and soul of the commemoration of this incredible human. This man, Martin Luther King, who had the audacity that a human being can indeed change the world. The moment was potently powerful and brought tears to all of our eyes.
There is a plaque that overlooks the parking lot, that reads as follows:
What has become of his dream? So much! Yet so much is waiting to be realized. I couldn’t help but wonder what if Martin Luther King had not been assassinated? What would he have continued to challenge us to change? What part of society would he want us to use our voice and agility to change?
It’s interesting to note that two things he was raising his voice against right before his untimely death was the Vietnam War and Poverty in the South and other places in our country. The idea seemed to be that to follow justice and civil rights for all, must include all areas, especially the poverty within this nation. His idea seemed to be that if I don’t help my brothers and sisters who are in need right next to me, how can I call myself a follower of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
What if the Church took up this cry? Don’t get me wrong, the church at large has done so many things to help out humanity. But we seem at times to get to the point of a plateau, adopting the mindset that others will take up “the cause” and it’s just not our calling. But isn’t it our calling? If we’ve been rescued from the poverty of human hopelessness because of the blood of Jesus, isn’t this the mission we then extend to every person we come in contact with? It may not look the same as everyone else, because we do have callings and gifts. But shouldn’t these gifts extend to wherever we find ourselves?
Here are some statistics for you in regard to what we can do here and now to help relieve poverty in the world. These statistics are quoted from the book The Hole in Our Gospel, written by Richard Stearns, the President of World Vision. Most of the stats have been taken from different surveys that were done in different years. If there is a specific year that this survey was taken, that year will be included below. If there is no year mentioned, the stat is an average for a regular year. I think you may be surprised at how “easy” it really is to help alleviate poverty right here, right now:
-the extra money available if all American churchgoers tithed
(which sounds like a ton! But check out these further numbers:)
-the approximate amount Americans spend on Entertainment and recreation in a year
(Kind of makes us look like we are more powerful than we realized!)
-Amount spent by teenagers ages 12-17 (2006)
-Amount spent on jewelry in 2008
-total U.S.-government foreign assistance budget for the world
-the amount spent on state lottery tickets (according to 2007 survey)
-the amount spent on pets
-the amount spent by Americans on cosmetic surgery (2007)
-total Overseas ministries income to 700 Protestant mission agencies, including denominational, interdominational, and independent agencies.
$65 Billion (the same amount spent on jewelry in a year)
-amount needed to eliminate extreme poverty on the planet for more than a billion people
$6 billion (half of what is spent on cosmetic surgery)
-amount would bring universal primary education for children
-the amount it would take to bring clean water to most of the world’s poor
$13 Billion (same as is spent on cosmetic surgery in the U.S.)
-the amount to be able to provide basic health and nutrition for EVERONE in the world
-the total yearly income of American churchgoers
(it would take just a little over 1 percent of the income of American Christians to lift the poorest one billion people in the world out of extreme poverty. U.S. Christians, who make up 5% of the church worldwide, control half of the global Christian wealth)
(The Hole in Our Gospel, pg. 218)
It’s that easy. Even teenagers could do it!
But some have said, “Is it really about money that much? Isn’t it more about my heart and my time?” Absolutely! However, in my opinion, it goes a step further. I vote with my dollar. I am owned by what I buy to a certain extent. I only pay for that which I believe in, that which I need or that which I want. And what I use my money for is what I end up cherishing and protecting. Jesus put it this way: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21). Money is the tool I use to cast my vote of where my heart is. Money is a necessity for living on this planet – yes. It is also the tool to help alleviate pain and suffering around me.
This topic of money can be a touchy one. It can make people feel guilty, or feel controlled…which perhaps proves that money indeed has a hold on us more than we realize. And many times, people ask: “Well, I don’t know where to even start! There’s so much need…” and it’s true – it can seem overwhelming. The best place to start is asking ourselves this: What do I really need? And what do I merely want? (For some ideas on where to start, check out my post “A Lifestyle of Love but Where to Start?“. Also, I’ll be including more ideas in some later posts. In the meantime, get creative! You know more than you realize.)
What if the Church helped take up the cause that Martin Luther King was just beginning to expose and actually started doing what we can do right here and right now for those who need it the most? But wasn’t this all exposed before Martin Luther King ever came on the scene? So then, what if the church actually continued to DO what Jesus Christ Himself started here on this planet? He started the revolution when He spoke these words at the beginning of His ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18, 19)
What if the church continued that revolution not just in word and speaking of a someday, somewhere, but actually lived out what it means to be the body of Christ on this earth right now? What if tithes and offerings were to go beyond just paying for pastors – what if they were to actually pay for the alleviation of poverty and suffering on this planet? That’s what the early church did. In Acts 2 we’re told “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need….” (Acts 2:44, 45). The revolution has already been started. The need is overwhelming. Jesus is waiting for us in the form of the least of these. What are we waiting for?
I will end this segment of this subject with this amazing quote from Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail:
“The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often
the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century…”
– Martin Luther King, Jr – Letter from a Birmingham Jail