February 18, 2009

The Sufferers Among Us

2009 1505 page31 capNE COLD NOVEMBER DAY A CHURCH GROUP AND I DROVE TO DOWNTOWN Baltimore, Maryland—the impoverished, grimy part. It was so cold even the birds stayed hidden from the elements. We stopped at a small park where many homeless people live on benches or in tattered shelters made of tarps. We handed out sandwiches and bottled water; the people eagerly, almost greedily, accepted them. Dressed in worn-out coats and unkempt clothes, they greeted us with smiles. The park overflowed with needy people who had come seeking food, and maybe a little hope.
The temperature continued to plummet, but we didn’t finish distributing the food and water until evening. As we were leaving, we came upon a woman sitting hunched over on the sidewalk. We noticed that she was clutching something tightly in her arms. It was a baby.
A sudden surge of guilt swept over me. The wind was blowing hard, and my thoughts were focused on getting inside a warm building. Yet, how can we pass by this woman? I thought. We asked her why she wasn’t at a homeless shelter.
2009 1505 page31“I’ve been to all of them,” she said. “They had no room for me.” I noticed tears rolling down her face as she spoke. She had wrapped most of her warm clothes around the infant, her daughter, who was sleeping peacefully.
“I’m going to take my baby to the emergency room and tell them she’s sick,” she said. “I know she really isn’t sick, but it’s the only way I can keep her inside out of the cold.”
Poverty is rampant. You find it everywhere. Sometimes we pass by those who are suffering and we have pity in our hearts for them. We hear stories of misfortune and think, What a sad world we live in! Yet we still manage to lend our thoughts and words to petty things. I have seen people become enraged because a waitress gave them the wrong order or because someone cut them off in traffic. Small inconveniences loom large in our minds, and we often take our lives and blessings for granted.
While traveling outside North America a few years ago I was astonished at the poverty I witnessed. I saw people living in nothing but shelters made of some cloth and sticks, and small children dressed in rags, wandering aimlessly through the city streets alone. I remember visiting a tourist site where I spotted a young girl about 10 years old selling handcrafted rugs. She looked at me, and I saw she was not seeking pity. I found it amazing that she could smile even though she was living amid such poverty. When I handed her a small bag of candy, she expressed more joy and thankfulness than I had ever seen for something so insignificant.
Those God has blessed with the means to give comfort and joy to others should not squander these blessings but use them to bring relief to people who are suffering. Many times we encounter someone in pain, yet we don’t say or do anything because their suffering and sorrow are not visible to us. Pray that God will open our eyes that we might see.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God gave His only Son so that we might live. How then can we keep silent and not proclaim this beautiful and perfect love to others, especially those suffering so greatly?
To those who have the gift of eternal life, I say: “Don’t keep it to yourselves, but help spread this light and hope to the world.” God gives us infinite opportunities in which we can demonstrate His love to others—both at home and abroad. And none is greater than helping the poor among us.
Hannah Goldstein is a high school senior. She attends the Reaching Hearts International Church in Silver Spring, Maryland.