Those well-versed in Scripture know that Matthew 25:31–45 sticks out like the open hand of a hungry panhandler. It’s hard to ignore, yet many aren’t sure what to do about it other than toss some spare change at the problem and hurry away.
Christians believe that this oft-quoted passage about serving the “least of these” is a central theme of the Bible, impossible to ignore. The theory goes that as Christ served us in dying and resurrecting for our sake, so we must symbolically die to our selves, be reborn and spend our lives serving others in love.
It’s not easy. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest things about being a follower of Christ. What with all the social crises in the world today, it’s hard not to feel small and helpless. Still, there are many ways to serve others, and even the smallest steps can be transforming for both the servant and the served. Here are some basic ways to take those first few steps:
1. Build a well
Lack of clean water kills nearly 150 children every hour in Africa. But the injustice of human beings dying from dirty water is something we can eliminate with minimal effort. The best way to help is to contribute to a water project in an African community. These projects build wells that provide water, health and hope to Africa. Go to www.bloodwatermission.com to learn more about how to help.
2. Speak for the hungry
More than 852 million people around the world suffer from hunger. Most of us do a decent job stocking food pantries, serving at homeless shelters and raising funds for hunger charities, but few of us lobby organizations like our churches or government to offer greater aid to hungry people around the world. Learn who your representatives, leaders and pastors are and contact them about the problem of hunger. The financial means are there to wipe it out. The United Nations Development Program estimates that the basic health and nutritional needs of the world’s poorest people could be met for an additional $13 billion a year—less than the amount of money animal lovers in the United States and Europe spend annually on pet food.
3. Volunteer at a women’s shelter
Millions of women around the world are victims of sex trafficking, domestic violence, poverty and other types of repressive conditions. But there are many ways to empower these women. Be willing to adopt a child who might otherwise be aborted, or offer to feed, clothe, shelter and nurture a young unwed mother and her child. Volunteer at your local shelter for battered women and children. Be ready to help a victim of domestic abuse by learning the signs of abuse, the steps of preparation for a woman to escape an abusive situation and your local shelter’s address and phone number.
4. Buy fair trade products
Fair Trade allows farmers and artisans in poor countries to get better prices for their goods; it also discourages exploitative working conditions and pushes for measures that protect the environment and improve producers’ quality of life. Supporting Fair Trade can be as simple as buying products from Fair Trade vendors instead of mass-market chain stores. Learn more about the movement from the many informational websites just a Google search away; then spread the word, telling others to buy Fair Trade products and asking your local grocers to consider carrying products that are Fair Trade certified.
5. Serve as a mentor
The destructive gang lifestyle glamorized by popular culture beckons many vulnerable children, and without adult guidance, there is little hope that they will be able to resist the call to join gangs. The problem of gangs may seem daunting, but there are ways to help. Mentor a troubled youth, especially one whose mother or father is in jail for gang-related activity or who has been or is in a gang himself or herself. Your positive influence and caring can impact the life of a young person who has few or no role models.
6. Work with AIDS patients
Every day 8,500 people are killed by HIV/AIDS. The pandemic is spreading like wildfire across different parts of the world, particularly in Africa, Asia, Russia and the United States. If you’d like to help fight the war on HIV/AIDS, learn the facts and work to make sure those around you know the truth about the illness. Get involved with a local hospital that has a need for volunteers to minister to those with AIDS and HIV. Take a short-term missions trip to a country where HIV/AIDS is rampant and offer aid to the sick and their families. If you have the means, consider adopting or becoming a foster parent to an infant or child with HIV/AIDS.
7. Support the troops and support peace
Jesus said, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39–40, TNIV), and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, TNIV). Scriptures like these inspired early Christians to refuse to become involved in war. In fact, until the time of Constantine, no Christian writing allowed for Christians to participate in war. Today, as our nation wages wars in foreign lands, we can take action by getting involved with pacifist organizations and participating in peaceful anti-war protests. Show support for our troops by sending care packages and letters to soldiers, telling them that we are praying for them as they struggle through the hardship of war. And ask your political representatives to vote against unnecessary or unreasonable military action.
8. Reduce your waste and consumption
In October 2005, anti-poverty organization World Bank reported that nearly one-fifth of health problems and millions of deaths in poor countries can be attributed to environmental factors like climate change and pollution. Many today suffer from the unfortunate misconception that we can exploit the natural resources of the earth without consequence, despite our call to be conscientious stewards of the earth God created. We all play a vital role in protecting and caring for the environment. You can help by making small changes in your lifestyle. Consider reducing meat and other animal products from your diet. Buy locally grown and organic produce. Drive a fuel-efficient car or try to drive less. Take measures to ensure that your home is as energy-efficient as possible. Reduce, reuse and recycle.
9. Befriend the poor
Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11, TNIV). Indeed, in the world today, solutions to the problem of poverty continue to elude us. Still, there are ways to help, specifically on the local level. Volunteer with a street ministry. Put in hours at a local homeless shelter and get to know the homeless people in your community. Help build homes with organizations like Habitat for Humanity. Love and help your neighbors, and treat the homeless on the street like human beings, rather than vermin to be eliminated, avoided or ignored.
Overwhelmed? Don’t be. You don’t need to do all of these things, especially not today. Where you go from here depends on how motivated you are to learn about the many ills that plague our world, equipping yourself with the tools to reach out, lovingly and prayerfully caring for all of God’s precious creation. This is the revolution that must take place—it is not a worldly revolution through which we strive to create some soulless communist machine. It is instead a personal revolution, a communal revolution; above all, it is what Mother Teresa once called a “revolution of love.” Rather than relying on anger, bitterness and even violence to bring about change, we—militants of this revolution of love—use weapons of charity, love, peace and willful self-sacrifice to serve others using the richness of our talents. Though only God can eradicate all the world’s ills in His time, while we’re here on this earth, we can each fulfill His ultimate command to love our neighbors as ourselves and to serve the “least of these.”
Heather Zydek is the editor of The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World (RELEVANT Books).