Why We Need to Know the Poor and Marginalized

As a mission educator, I am blessed with opportunities to spend time with people beyond my borders.  But I don't see the fact that I get to go to Haiti or Guatemala or Bolivia as a distinction that puts me above anyone else, or as "the thing" that makes me a missionary.  It is simply one of many blessings that God affords me, which helps me to better know Christ.  The early Christian communities were not formed only by those who went out to share the Gospel, but primarily by regular women and men who shared the Good News of God's love by building relationships among people in their own communities - from the privileged to the widowed and orphaned - at a time of brutality and social division.  The mission is to build one human family in Christ, and it is shared by each and every one of us.

The temptation, of course, is to see the mission as "us" bringing the faith to "them."  But, if you look at the Gospel, Jesus is often pointing his disciples to the poor, the marginalized, and the outcasts as the true examples of faith (take, for example, the "sinful" woman in Luke 7).  In bringing his disciples, who themselves were ethnic Jews living as oppressed subjects of the Roman Empire, into communion with people whom they saw as less worthy - cripples, beggars, Samaritans, Gentiles, Roman centurions - he was pointing towards our need for community that transcends social division (Radical ReconciliationBoesak and DeYoung).  This is a vision rooted in our very creation as beings in the image and likeness of God, reaching out to God through not only prayer, but also human relationship and interdependence.

When I take people overseas, we spend evenings reflecting on the beatitudes.  One of the challenges that I find is that the Beatitudes tell me to see the poor, the meek, the hungry, those in mourning, as blessed, not as objects of pity.  A coworker who has been doing this much longer than I once explained to me that, "The poor are blessed because they understand their dependence on God better than I do."  This strikes me as profoundly true and something I need to continually learn from the poor.  The people of Santo Domingo de Guzman, El Salvador have an expression: "If we have enough for eight, we have enough for nine."  This sentiment mirrors Jesus' own words, "There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves" (Mt. 14:16).  And yet, it is the poor who adopt this attitude much more readily than we do.  In fact, studies show that the poor tend to be much more generous than the affluent.  This is why, I think, that Jesus said that "it will be hard for the one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt. 19:23).  We need the poor to show us the generous and loving face of God.

I see God's call to me as sharing the Gospel through love and community with people that we so often ignore.  That, I think, is the call to all of us whether or not we ever travel beyond our borders.  Even for me, most of my ministry takes place here in the US.  My challenge is to keep those people that I meet "out there" in my heart and allow what they teach me about God to form me as a better Christian towards all people - my wife, my son, my sisters and mother, my cousins, aunts, and uncles, my neighbors, and the strangers that I meet in everyday life. And, in doing so, I more fully experience God's love.  This is why all of us need to be in genuine relationship with those on the margins: because we long to know God.

Kevin Foy is a mission promoter for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in the Pacific Northwest.