Here at Oliver Gospel, we've affectionately named our monthly donor's club the "Champions Society" (read more about it here). But, what exactly do we mean by that word, Champion? A lot of images might come to mind, perhaps of Rocky or some favorite sports team. Or maybe you think of someone who stands up for those that can't for themselves or a representative of a group.
Let's pose the question in a slightly different way: what is the identity statement of a Champion?
Here's the way we see it...
Champions lead, intercede, and love on behalf of their neighbors experiencing poverty.
In an earlier post, we demonstrated the many scriptural passages that speak of God's heart for the poor and directly command Christians to serve them. The identity statement above ultimately finds its root in Scripture. For instance, the word "intercede" is detailed in Proverbs 31:8-9, which reads, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Let's break that identity statement down further.
1. Champions LEAD
The first way to Champion is to lead. There is much that could be said about that packed word, and with a topic like "leadership", you could find countless books about it - usually beginning with something like "The 29 laws of…" or "12 ways to…" and so on. For the purposes of Championing the poor, however, there are two descriptions that you might not immediately think of for "leading" that we find fit really well. These are Empathy and Commitment.
Empathy, which often involves sharing tears and imagining yourself in a given situation, is not always natural and not always glorified by those around. It's something that you can show by example to others around and, in turn, lead them to the same empathy that is ultimately the root of action.
Commitment is also an important one. God's love is very often called "steadfast" in the Old Testament and is described as a love that sticks by and commits to even the most difficult of people (I'm thinking of the people of Israel in the Old Testament, who happen to remind me a lot of myself). A leader understands the journey that someone is taking to work out of chronic homelessness and knows that it takes 6-12 months on average for someone to be fully and finally free of the burden of poverty, and they are willing to commit that time to an individual or commit to an organization like Oliver Gospel Mission that is positioned to do so, all while leading others to do the same.
2. Champions INTERCEDE
The next word of that identity statement, (Champions lead, intercede, and love on behalf of their neighbors experiencing poverty) is intercede.
This is a personal favorite of mine because I have connected it to my own job. That is, the Development department intercedes for the homeless by asking for the assistance they need so that those who are struggling don't have to. Think about Scripture that calls Jesus our "great High Priest" who "intercedes on our behalf to the Father." In light of those verses, let's ask ourselves: how can we follow Him in intercession?
One way is to educate. A lot of those experiencing homelessness are seen and judged without a chance to explain their story or what various obstacles they might be facing. Is there a way that you can educate those around you, helping to overcome various stereotypes and biases? By telling the story, especially of real people (taking one of our newsletters, webinars, or stories and sharing it with others), you can help paint a more truthful picture of real people in crisis. Continue to educate yourself as well; being here, engaging in this community, is doing that.
Another way to intercede is to use your voice in policy decisions in your workplace to advocate for better resources for underprivileged people or opportunities for employment that would have otherwise been unavailable had you not spoken up.
Finally, the most impactful way you can intercede, I believe, is through regular prayer. Ask for strength for staff and volunteers, for those involved in various ministries to the poor, and also intercede for those experiencing homelessness. Considering joining us for one of our upcoming prayer walk events or signing up for our prayer partner email list. Pray for their "daily bread" and provision from Him who sustains and satisfies our deepest needs.
3. Champions LOVE
Our last point is love. When loving the homeless, there are three ways that come to mind.
At the very center of the Christian faith is the cross, which is the ultimate act of sacrifice. In 1 John 3:16-17, John writes "there is no greater love than this, to lay down one's life for your friends." Love is about sacrificing your needs for the needs of another, putting them before you. Here at Oliver Gospel, we define poverty as "the extent to which you go without." That could be any number of things: finances, transportation, health care, affordable housing; but more often than not, they all come back to the root of not having community or even one person who will support them. One way to sacrifice in ministry to the homeless is by taking an extra 15 minutes to be late to work so that you can truly connect with the person you encounter who needs help.
Love also means presence, in Jesus' ministry he would stop and listen to the one, even in the midst of crowds. I think of Zacchaeus or the women with the issue of blood, and many others in the gospels where Jesus stops everything to be present. Presence also means awareness of the various seasons or potential memories that arise with various holidays. For homeless veterans, how can we recognize them on Veteran's Day or celebrate with them on July 4th? On Christmas, how can we love the homeless who will not be waking up to presents or time with family? Who are they painfully missing while the holiday goes on? A recent example of someone championing the poor is one of our donors! She was aware that mother's day was on the horizon and decided to prepare gift bags of various candies, sweet notes, and beauty products to be given to all the mothers at our Women and Children's shelter, Toby's Place. That is so special and a phenomenal example of Championing!
Lastly, is touch. A favorite story from the Gospel of Mark for me is when Jesus encounters the man who is seen as "unclean" in his society because he has leprosy. If you've not read it this way before, let me challenge you to see the correlation between how those with leprosy were perceived and how those in homelessness are perceived today. In Jesus' time, those with leprosy were relegated to live in specific spaces outside the city (out of sight, out of mind). They were the people that you would go to the other side of the street to avoid. Don't we treat the homeless the same? It's utterly tragic. What if we followed Jesus' example in Mark 1:40-45 where he touches the man and is unashamed of being associated with him. He enters into the spaces deemed "unclean" and touches those unwanted in society. Can we not do the same?
For these reasons, and more, we here at Oliver Gospel believe that a Champion is someone who leads, intercedes, and loves on behalf of their neighbors experiencing poverty. And we hope you are inspired to to the same!
In fact, why not start today? There are many ways to begin your journey of Championing our neighbors experiencing homelessness by leading, interceding, and loving. Whether that's upping your monthly giving amount through our official Champions Society, signing up to volunteer, or agreeing to regularly pray with us, would you consider taking the next step?