They were eating, drinking and partying, totally oblivious to what was thirty feet below them. We were in San Salvador helping a ministry that feeds the homeless. It houses drug addicted teens, nursing them to wholeness, and rescues victims of sex trafficking. The ignored and forgotten are healed by the love of God. The hopeless are liberated and restored to life in Jesus’ name.
Thursday morning several of us painted two rooms at the ministry while others in our group installed a clean water filtration system in their kitchen. Local volunteers made beautiful greeting cards with bright colored paper strips they coiled and formed into flowers, leaves, stems, hearts and many other decorative shapes. After lunch three of us prepped vegetables to accompany the evening meal while others of our team received the fifty clients that would be served that evening. Showers were available as well as free haircuts. Games like dominoes, checkers, puzzles and cards were scattered among the tables for visitors to entertain themselves while waiting for the devotional and hot meal. Our team played games with them, prayed for them or simply conversed with them. The mission statement of Mission to El Salvador is to treat all with Respect, Honor and Dignity.
The clients were fed by 4:30 p.m. and we had cleaned up by 5 p.m. and headed to our quarters to have our own dinner. We were again picked up at 8 p.m. to return back to the inner city ministry to pack meals for the homeless living on the streets. Unaware of what was to come, our team piled into the bed of a truck which was lined with benches for seating. There was a thick metal railing attached above the edge of the truck bed that gave us something to grip to steady the ride. Cases of orange and grape beverages were placed beneath the benches behind our legs for easy access. The center of the truck bed held a large white cooler. It was filled with three hundred and fifty foil packages each containing three pieces of Canadian bacon or pepperoni pizza which had been donated by a local restaurant. It would probably be the only meal those people would have that day unless they found a trash receptacle behind a restaurant in which they could scavenge.
We had packed meals until the sunlight faded into darkness, which veiled a lonely subculture that was almost invisible. We could not have found the people of the streets in the daytime. They only come out in the dark of night because it obscures their existence. Our leader gave a shout as the truck came to a stop. The lights of the truck, which makes its rounds every Thursday night, summoned them to come out. It also illuminated those otherwise hidden. Men, women, children and even babies slept concealed in crevices between buildings, in delivery docking areas or underneath overhangs which protect the cement sidewalks from rain. Some had blankets worn thin by long nights exposed to rough cement beds and evening storms. Others had confiscated cardboard boxes to pad the unforgiving surfaces where they slept. We drove by parks, stadiums, beautiful public buildings and churches to find them. Every few blocks the truck would stop, the call came forth alerting them food had come, and clusters of people would step into the light and line up behind the truck so that we could hand them their only meal that day.
The ministry leader called many of them by name, asked them how they were doing and invited them to come to the ministry for help. It was only six blocks away. The streets of the city looked like nothing we had seen in the states. Walls were trashed with gang graffiti, sidewalks filled with trash and temporary barricades lined the streets. Worn paint exposed the depressed and hopeless culture while majestic public buildings stood like citadels contrasting the devastation of everyday life. It looked like a war zone and it was. Good and evil, haves and have nots, rich and poor were separated by only a few feet.
We rounded a corner and the sound of music grabbed my attention. It was emanating from the roof of a three-story building. I saw a large restaurant on the top floor, with open air tables. It was decorated with strings of bright lights and the tables were filled with people eating, drinking and partying. The music was up-beat and the atmosphere was filled with laughter. They seemed totally oblivious to what existed thirty feet below them. The truck stopped directly beneath them on the right side of the road and children were the first to line up behind the truck. Boys 8, 10 and 12 years old stretched out their arms, smiled as they received their meal and thanked us for coming. Women with young children, fathers, laborers and drunks came forward and then recessed back into their dark world. Some had matted hair and stared with glazed eyes delirious from drug abuse. Still others seemed even joyful that someone cared and acknowledged their need. At one stop, three or four women in stiletto heels and thick make-up approached the truck for food. Their living was made on the streets but they were not condemned or judged, they were told “God bless you”. Two men hurried to pick up an old man unable to walk by himself. They carried him to the back of the truck so that he could also eat that night.
Immediately, I was gripped by the contrast of those reveling above and these destitute, hungry and hopeless below. It was an “in your face” moment exposing the clash of classes that exists. They were partying and seemed unaware and unconcerned of what lay thirty feet below. A scripture came to mind and haunted me the rest of the night. Matthew 24:37-44 “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For just as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, [men] marrying and [women] being given in marriage, until the [very] day when Noah went into the ark, and they did not know or understand until the flood came and swept them all away—so will be the coming of the Son of Man…Watch therefore [give strict attention, be cautious and active], for you do not know in what kind of a day [whether a near or remote one] your Lord is coming…You also must be ready therefore, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him.”
Suddenly, much too quickly, hands reached into the cooler and came up empty. They reached down again swiping the insides of the cooler hoping to find another meal or two but there was nothing left in the cooler. Three hundred and fifty meals had been handed out but there were still people in line and more around the next corner. A sadness gripped each of us as we realized the need was greater than the food we had at the time. Stunned, tearful and silent we drove back to the ministry and then home to our quarters to contemplate what we had experienced.
It didn’t have to be San Salvador. It could have been Calcutta or Nairobi, Buenos Aires or Cape Town, Tokyo or Jakarta or any major city in the U.S. Injustice can be found in every nation and every city. The most vulnerable are the least safe. Whether it’s threatening young boys with death if they don’t join the gangs or abducting the young girls as sex slaves or drug kingpin wives, the innocent live in constant danger. There is no amount of money that will solve the problem and no laws will prevent it from happening. Governments are totally ineffective and simply meeting the needs of hunger and shelter are not the full answer. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that saves, heals and delivers. It is a change of direction, a shift of mindset, an eternal hope in the intervention of God Almighty that transforms lives.
Jesus commissioned His disciples to go into all the world and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not poverty and lack, it is abundance. The Kingdom of God is not sickness and disease, it is health and healing. The Kingdom of God is not addiction and fear, it is deliverance and freedom. The Kingdom of God is not immorality and perversion, it is wholeness and hope. Jesus commanded His disciples to begin preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem, then Judea and the uttermost parts of the earth. One might say, “But I can’t preach”. We can all be witnesses to what the Lord has done in our lives. We may not be able to go overseas but we can send someone who can. We may not have the strength to serve those in need but we can pray! What we cannot do is sit back and expect others to do for us what God has called us to do. We cannot be those people eating, drinking and partying above the problem, oblivious to the needs in their own neighborhood. We cannot say because we do not see what’s happening it is not our responsibility to get involved. We cannot continue to let the innocent be victimized and destroyed by our inaction. Everyone can do something.
James, the half-brother of Jesus made it very clear when he wrote, faith without works is dead. James 2:17-20 declares, “So also faith, if it does not have works (deeds and actions of obedience to back it up), by itself is destitute of power (inoperative, dead). But someone will say [to you then], You [say you] have [good] works. Now you show me your [alleged] faith apart from any [good] works [if you can], and I by [good works of obedience] will show your my faith…faith apart from [good] works is inactive and ineffective and worthless.”
We have a friend who is an Apostle that goes to the nations and raises up churches. He planted his family in Costa Rica and preached there until the church was established and the people continued the work. He then moved on to the Amazon region, Cuba and so on. He once said to me, “Find a need and meet it. That is the ministry of Christ.” The world is in desperate need of the Gospel of the Kingdom. People everywhere need hope, consolation, forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
My challenge in this word is to encourage all to discover their mission field. We must pray for the Holy Spirit to show us where we can be effective in changing people’s lives eternally. Simply giving donations of clothing or money to ministries does not involve risk or personal involvement. The Lord is calling us to get personally involved in the lives of others. There are opportunities right now in our “Jerusalem”. There are needs on the streets of our city. There are hopeless people crying out for help in neighborhoods around us all. The question is, will we help those who are meeting those needs? Will we pray regularly for those living in darkness that they might see the light? Are we willing to love the unlovable, help the needy, and get involved by going down where the people are, thirty feet below?