As a church, we love to take the month of March and celebrate Compassion Month. Its a chance for us to celebrate all that God is doing through our compassion ministries at the Duluth Vineyard, and there is a lot to celebrate. God is bringing hope and healing to so many lives as we serve the poor and marginalized in the Twin Ports area.
Hope is being restored to prisoners through our Prison mailing ministry as prisoners receive transcripts of weekly sermons, so they can hear God’s good news of love for them right in their prison cell in a way that they can understand. The hungry are being fed as our food shelf gives out an average of 21,000 pounds of food every single month to more than 430 households in a system that lets them pick out their own food. Those without clothing are being clothed through the Clothing Closet ministry that’s open to all of our food shelf guests twice a week. Whether its getting warm coats, hats and gloves for winter, or a professional outfit for their next interview, they are being loved by getting this practical need met in this way. Light is being shed on the injustice of sex trafficking as Love Justice ministry continues to bring awareness to the issue of sex trafficking, and to serve the victims in our region in practical ways. Last year they put together and mailed an educational resource to hotels in the highest sex-trafficked areas in our region so that hotel managers can teach their employees how to spot signs that sex trafficking is occurring and put an end to it. There are so many stories and lives impacted by these ministries day in and day out, and it is a privilege and an honor that we have as a church to get to participate in what Jesus is doing in the lives of those that are poor and marginalized.
As we serve and get to know the poor, those that are in our own church community and outside these walls, we learn so much from them as the poor become our friends. Those that lack resources, power, and status in society tend to be the most generous and attentive to the needs of others.
In the gospel of Mark, I love the story of the Widow’s offering that exemplifies this perfectly. It says “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” This story is one that we see modeled again and again as we serve and befriend the poor. The most stunning part of this story for me is how Jesus calls all his disciples to him and lifts up this poor widow as an example for them to follow. How humbling! This is the spirit in which we do this ministry— coming humbly, knowing we have something to give but also knowing we have something to receive.
Compassion Month is not only at time set aside for us to celebrate all that God is doing through these ministries, but also a time for us to remember and realign ourselves with God’s heart for this ministry to which we are so deeply called as a body of Christ. This command to “Remember the Poor” is one of the distinctives that marks the Vineyard Movement of churches. Serving the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, and the vulnerable is central to our mission and ministry as a Vineyard church.
So why is it that this is at the core of what we do? Why do we devote so much time, energy, and resources to this? Because when we look at the mission and ministry of Jesus, this was at the core. It was not only what he talked about, but what he lived and breathed. And as his disciples who want to be like him in every way, remembering the poor is not optional, it is a natural byproduct that comes as we align ourselves with God’s heart. Sometimes our human-ness shows its head more than we’d like it to and we become selfish, greedy, and unwilling to give our time or resources to lift up the poor and oppressed. Or maybe we let our anxiety of fear get in the way of building friendships with those who are marginalized, we’re scared we might say the wrong thing or we’re unsure of how to relate or connect. I know I’ve been there, too. When we run into our own humanness, the thing to do is to muster up as much will power as we can and just try harder. Just kidding— when has that ever worked for any of us, really? Its in these places of our own weakness, sin, and disobedience that we get on our knees again and again and ask God to realign our hearts with his will- his hopes for those that are cast aside by our society.
We get to ask Him to give us his heart for the poor. As John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement, once said “We will never step out of our middle-class mindset and do anything for the poor until we’ve caught God’s heart for them.” As we press in to His heart for the poor, serving and befriending the poor becomes a natural part of our every day lives. And as we ask him for his heart, I know he’ll be faithful to continue to refuel this church with passion and purpose for serving the poor. And, I bet he’ll keep planting seeds of new dreams in our hearts, too, for how our church can serve the poor in ways we haven’t even thought of yet.
—Katie Walker, Compassion Ministry Director