Dejection filled the face and posture of the father who walked into the ministry center. Every fiber of pride had been broken. With his eyes glued to the floor, he walked to where Ed and I stood talking. “Can yunz’ help me?” he asked.
Over the next 30 minutes, I listened as Charles poured out his soul. He was at his wit’s end. Two years earlier when the coal mines shut down, he had lost his job and eventually his car and then his house. He had “hung on” believing that the coal mines would reopen, and life would return to normal. “After all,” he said, “that is what usually happened.” But this time it did not happen. He shared that over the past few months contractors from Wyoming had arrived and started removing all the equipment from the mines.
Like his other mining buddies, he had tried to get job skill training at the local tech school, but that took money. He along with several of his friends had failed the entrance exam. He had repeatedly attempted to find employment locally, but no one was hiring. He had even hitched a ride to Atlanta but was unable to find employment and finally after a week in a homeless shelter gave up and returned home.
He looked at us and asked how he could go on when he could no longer provide food for his dear wife and two kids. Did God even care about people like him?
Reaching out to Charles, Ed faced him and placing a hand firmly on each shoulder told him that he cared, that he had some friends who cared but most importantly Jesus cared. Unfazed by Ed’s statement, Charles just looked at him with vacant eyes.
Sensing the troubled spirit in Charles, Ed asked him to follow him to his office. There Ed quickly asked him a few questions, filled in some lines on a form he had on his desk. When Charles told him his address, Ed asked, “Is that one of Joe Kirk’s rental houses?”
“Yes,” replied Charles, “it’s in rough shape, but he lets us live there in exchange for me mowing the grass at all his rentals. It’s the best I can do,” he volunteered.
Ed turned and left the room. Alone with Charles, I asked about his wife and children. He smiled and told me that he had a boy age ten and a daughter age eight. He and his wife had dated their final year of high school and married shortly after graduation. That same summer he had gone to work in the coal mines. Life had been good.
I asked if he had attended church, and somewhat embarrassed he said, “Me and my woman used to go every time the doors opened. When the mines closed and I lost my car and my house I quit on God. No one seemed to care. The preacher didn’t come to see me anymore. Reck’n since I couldn’t put any money in the plate, he couldn’t afford to see me.”
A smile played on the corners of his mouth as he continued, “The Rev and I used to be hunt’n and fish’n buddies. I sure did think he was my friend.”
“Well,” he muttered, lowering his voice, “When I lost everything, I just gave up on him, the church, and on God. I don’t t’ank they care anymore. The Rev, he just stopped com’n ‘round. So, I quit on the whole bunch.”
As the conversation wound down, I asked myself, “What would Jesus do in a case like this?” Better still, “What would Jesus have me to do?”
Stories like the above story occur daily in compassionate ministry sites and churches across Appalachia. Often the churches reaching out to respond are themselves facing financial challenges that cause them to retreat from the poverty needs in their communities. Others, step out by faith and attempt to meet the needs, some with success.
On the night of His resurrection, Jesus met with His disciples, and after showing them His hands and His side, He told them, “As My Father has sent Me, even so, I am sending you” (John 20:21).
How did the Father send Jesus? On the day Jesus publicly announced His earthly ministry, He begins by quoting the words of Isaiah the prophet.
“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 NLT; Isaiah 61:1-2).
The recorded life and ministry of Jesus as recorded in the Bible are captured in the word “compassion” towards the poor, the hungry, the sick, and those who were suffering. His harshest words of condemnation were to the religious who saw the poor, the hungry, the sick, and those who were suffering and did nothing about it. Towards the end of his life, John, one the twelve Apostles wrote these words to his fellow Christians in Ephesus and us today.
“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence. And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him”
(1 John 3:16-22 NLT).
For a moment imagine that you are the lead person on the Mission Team at your church. You receive a call from Ed, a missionary working in the coalfields of Central Appalachia. Your church has recently been there on a short-term mission trip. He tells you the story of Charles and his family and adds that he has been able to provide some limited food to “tide them over for a few days.”
Then he asks you if your church can help. How will your church response?
If this question were given to your church, “How would your church respond?” Send your response to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The stories are true. Names and places have been changed to protect the identity of the persons included in the story.