Mercy is a voluntary sorrow that joins itself to the suffering of another. - Gregory of Nyssa, 4th Century
Octavia Hill was an Evangelical poverty-fighter who lived in the slums of London in the 1800s. She was well known for chastising the Church for being "too willing to help the poor, and not willing to know them."
Helping poor people is easier, after all. It's less messy, less of an inconvienence than making the effort to know them. To befriend the poor takes time and emotional energy.
Those who serve at Good Works Inc. in Athens, Ohio, like the 14 of us from Lake Forest who are here all this week, are strongly encouraged to interact and develop relationships. To go beyond the work in other words.
And we've had many opportunities in our first two days to do just that as we've divided up and headed out each morning on our various assignments. We've already settled into a nice rhythm. Up at 7 for a breakfast and devotional, then off we go.
Helping Ken, who is dying of emphesema, fix up a delapidated mobile home so he can move in and get out from under mounting debt. Helping husband and wife John and Kathy, who are also dealing with financial and medical hardships, move everything they own into a cheaper apartment.
Helping out at Kids Discovery Club, a summer camp for children from disadvantaged home environments. Putting a brand new roof on a treasured cabin of solitude on the grounds here at Good Works. Spending time and sharing a meal with homeless men and women, and more.
All of these job assignments have involved hours of hard work in hot, humid weather. But they've all been about relationships first. Not just with the people we're serving, but also the people we're serving with. We serve on teams made up of full-time Good Works staff, college summer interns, and even folks who are benefitting from Good Works ministries. One such program allows people in need of donated material items to work for those items by serving others in need.
We've come to a place here in Athens where concern for the poor is a palpable presence, a way of life. You simply can't miss it, it hangs in the air, invades your heart, wades through you soul.
What's also impossible to miss is the fuel behind it all. The Good Works community loves the poor because it's so abundantly clear that God loves the poor. In our Monday morning devotional, we were reminded that more than 400 veses - sprinkled throughout the Bible - speak about God's passion for the needy and His desire that his followers share that passion.
All obedience, including the specific obedience of loving needy people, begins with God. In our evening devotionals, we've been reflecting on where we've seen God throughout the day and what we've learned about his love for the poor and His grace in our lives. We've talked as a group and in separate conversations about what it truly means to worship Him and the things that distract us from loving Him through loving our neighbor.
The 14 of us - eight adults and six children - are soaking in this fact: God requires us to worship Him as He describes Himself. We can't make up our own picture of Him; we must take Him as He is.
And He clearly wants us to know that a central component of His self-identity is His love for the poor.