The people at Inspired To Action invited me to be a part of the 40 day fast by picking a day to fast and blog about my passion for the poor and why I work with World Vision. Today (July 1st) is my day! Here’s my blog entry, and if you like it, please visit inspiredtoaction.com and post a comment. Also, check out the other blogs for exciting and inventive ways you too can make a difference and live beautifully. Here’s my blog, I hope it inspires you to action:
Ministering To The Broken Heart Of God
My name is Jason Gray and I want to tell you why I’m passionate about serving the poor and my work with World Vision. My partnership with World Vision came at a time when I knew there had to be more to Christianity than cultivating and dressing up my personal faith. I read in James where we are told that true religion is this: to look after the orphan and the widow in their distress, and I knew this was the “more” of the gospel that I’d been hungry for.
I’ll share a broad overview of what I love about World Vision as well as a more personal story. If you are bored by broad overviews and just want the story, then scroll down halfway to the section that begins, “the last time I was in Africa…” But I hope you will read the whole thing and join with me in prayer today for the poorest of the poor and all those who serve them.
I’m a singer/songwriter living in the Minneapolis area and I’ve always believed in music and the power it has to move people, to comfort, to elucidate truth, the help us feel in a world that seems determined to leave us numb to the beauty, terror, hope, and longing all around us and even inside of us. So with a guitar and scraps of words I do my best to feel the weight of my times and hope to help others feel, too. I’m grateful for my work but it involves a lot of time away from family and friends, modest pay, and criticism or indifference with occasional moments of appreciation for my work. I don’t mean to sound like I feel sorry for myself – I’m grateful for what I get to do. But I mean this to say that I began to need more than the vain promises of rock and roll glory to make the requisite sacrifices I make.
And so maybe my work with World Vision is partly selfish in that it gives me a deeper sense of purpose and reason to get out and do what I do. You see I get to share about the work of World Vision in my concerts and talk with my audiences about how through child sponsorship they insure a child will have the food, water, education, and care they need to fend off the worst kind of poverty. No matter what happens on a given night, if a child is sponsored I that the lives of both the child and the sponsor have been changed. And this is worth making sacrifices for.
At first I was hesitant to align myself with World Vision because of how big they were. I confess I was subconsciously considering the cool-factor and wondering if there was an edgier, lesser known agency with more of an indie vibe that would suit my own indie artist status at the time. I suppose it’s analogous to the way we use music and bands to give us a sense of identity – the more obscure the band the better as they give us a sense of ownership since we discovered them. They become a kind of secret handshake. (God help them if they ever become successful because then we feel betrayed and accuse them of selling out while we go hunting for the next obscure band that we can use to prop up our identity! I see this same dynamic played out even in our decisions to champion certain charities, shopping for a cause the way we might a trendy pair of shoes. I’m not knocking other agencies, But I do hope that whoever we choose to partner with in serving the poor, that we do so for the right reasons.)
God as usual graciously saved me from my own narcissism and my wife and I both knew that God was directing us to work with World Vision and this work has become our passion and the driving force for nearly all that we do. I want to share a story with you about a recent trip to Africa that sums up why I am so passionate about serving the poor. But first, some quick facts: There are a lot of GREAT agencies out there, but here are reasons that initially excited about my specific partnership with World Vision:
1. World Vision is the most comprehensive humanitarian agency of its kind addressing food, clean water, medical, agricultural, educational, political, economical and emotional needs. They are a one-stop agency that touches upon nearly every issue that contributes to poverty and oppression. With World Vision we’ve participated in digging wells, emergency relief, micro loans to widows, we’ve bought girls out of prostitution, as well as provide for the basic needs of the children and families we’ve sponsored. They also work collaboratively with other aid agencies (like Compassion & IJM) in an effort to complement each other’s strengths.
2. World Vision is staffed by some of the most amazingly competent and humble people I’ve met – people who inspire me to be more. One of the more interesting people I’ve met is Steve Reynolds, the man who first introduced Bono to the needs of Africa. Most of the time they staff their projects with nationals who best know how to read the needs of a particular community.
3. Because their aid is community based, they are able to work in countries that no other Christian organization can. Because of the excellence of their work they also have the distinction of being the only Christian humanitarian agency to be invited into Muslim countries like Iran.
4. While they are Christ-centric they don’t reduce the gospel to an evangelical agenda. For instance, when they approached an aggressively atheistic country I won’t name here, the government told them they could serve their poor but only if they didn’t evangelize or bring bibles and only if the project was staffed with people the government selected. World Vision’s reply was, “whatever you say, we just want to serve your poor.” Within the first year of World Vision’s presence there more than half of the nationals supplied by the country to staff the project became Christians. This is because the work World Vision does begs the question, “why do you do this?” and of course the answer is Christ. Francis of Assisi told us to preach the gospel always and use words when necessary. World Vision workers bleed and sweat the gospel.
5. World Vision also has the lowest overhead of any agency of it’s kind, with almost 88% of all revenue going directly to aid. They hope to reach 90% in the coming years.
6. World Vision is leading the charge in the fight to answer the AIDs crisis in Africa. They are also the first on the scene in any major disaster you hear about in the news. They successfully lobbied congress to require diamonds be registered to help battle the blood diamond conflict.
I could go on, but you get the idea. I have personal experiences that fuel my passion, too, and if you’ve read this far, I’ll ask you to stay with me just a while longer and let me share an experience I had recently in Africa.
The last time I was in Africa, I spent most of my time wrestling with God. Besides personal struggles and trying to process what I had seen of the abysmal poverty there, there was also the matter of our friend Carol who became severely ill the day we arrived in Lesotho and was eventually hospitalized from what appeared to be food poisoning. She and her husband had worked hard to be able to go on this trip in hopes of meeting their sponsored child and seeing the work of World Vision first hand. Though our team prayed fervently for her Carol fell deeper and deeper into the clutches of a violent sickness. “God must have a purpose in this,” some said, or offered similar sentiments to the effect of this somehow being a part of God’s plan.
I get that thought, and it may even be true, but I’m always troubled by how easily those words come to us and I wonder if, sometimes at least, it isn’t our way of dismissing situations that we’d rather not engage, a way of avoiding the mental and spiritual wrestling matches that are troubling and notorious for leaving us re-named and with a permanent limp.
Meanwhile, the rest of us were getting our hearts broken as we ventured into the field to be witnesses to some of the worst that poverty and sickness can do to a beautiful people. I remember spending time with one mother, bed-ridden with AIDs and her husband already gone, who lay dying with the knowledge that she was leaving her 4 year old to care for her 10 month old. Her fear was a shadowy presence in the room as we gathered around her, offering our timid prayers. This is only one of many stories in a place where, if not for the grace of God made known through Word Vision and others who serve the poor, I fear there would be little hope at all.
During our drive back to the field office, I was wrestling with the suffering of those we visited that day as well as Carol’s. I was angry that God would bring her all the way to Africa only to abandon her to a third world hospital room. Could He use it or otherwise incorporate it into his plan? Of course, He is the great Redeemer. But I was still frustrated that He wouldn’t simply reach down and fix her now. As I wrestled with my frustration, I had a moment where I believe the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and gave me some perspective – reminding me that I’m not alone in my frustration.
We live in a fallen world where sin has disrupted the God intended order of things, where His perfect plan – though not cancelled – has been complicated. If I felt like I was frustrated, could I even begin to imagine God’s frustration, He who desires so much more for us – a people bent, wounded, and run afoul by the fall?
It’s difficult for me to believe that it was God’s will for Carol to be sick, just as it’s difficult for me to believe that it is God’s will that a 4 year old be left to care for her infant sister, or most any other horror that is all too easy to imagine in our day. World Vision was founded on the prayer of Bob Pierce who prayed: “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” On that trip, my own heart came present again to the fact that these things surely break God’s heart much more than they do mine, and the fissures in the canyons of His broken heart are deep and dark beyond measure. I repented of my anger and frustration, and my heart was broken not only for Carol, the poor, the dying and all who suffer, but also for God who perhaps suffers more than any of us; who suffers on account of us.
I’m left with the conviction that the work we do on behalf of the poor who are dying of AIDS, the orphans who are left behind, the friends holed up in hospital rooms riding out a terrible sickness, and all those who suffer is not only a ministry to them, but is ministry to God Himself. To ease their suffering is to ease the suffering of God, by caring for them we care for Him, a cup of cool water offered to the thirsty is received by God. I’m convinced that it is the closest we will ever come to giving something in return for all He’s given. He says, “What you do to the least of these, you do it to me.” I believe him. And because I love Him I’m eager, as unlikely as it sounds, to minister comfort to the broken heart of God.
This is why I work with World Vision.
If you would like to get involved, the best thing you can do is sponsor a child. A mere $35 a month provides the basic care that a child needs and actually impacts 5 people in that child’s community. The majority of World Vision’s work is driven by child sponsorship and as a sponsor you not only contribute to eliminating poverty in a region, but you get a personal relationship with the child who with your help becomes a conduit of God’s grace to a poverty ravaged community.
For other ways to get involved, go to www.worldvision.org and click the “get involved” tab at the top of the page.