Fifteen years ago my wife and I went to India for the first time. A great deal of our trip was spent at the Home for the Dying and Destitute in Calcutta, a home started by Mother Teresa. The home was made up of about fifty beds for men and the same for women. Each day people were brought in off the streets to spend their final days dying in peace. Lara and I joined other volunteers to help feed, bathe, and give basic medications as we spent time with those bound to their deathbeds. On one particular day, there was a boy brought in who was probably only 16 years old. After several hours, the boy began to breathe rather heavily and a nurse was summoned to see if anything could be done. With little medical options to offer, basic CPR was administered to no avail, as the boy breathed his last and died. We cleaned his body, wrapped him and took him to the morgue to be insinuated later that day.
I asked the nun running the place what the boy’s name was. I will never forget the look she gave as she told me that I knew as much about the boy as she did! The boy had died without a name! I knew the reality of our world and that 20, 000-30, 000 kids would die a day because of starvation and other preventable diseases, but it never dawned on me that some of those kids were dying without a name. No one would be notified, seemingly no one cared. He died without a name.
While Lara and I were recuperating from the overwhelming events of the day I came across the story of the Rich Man in Lazarus in Luke 16: 19ff. In the story we read that the rich man lived in luxury and had seemingly everything he needed for a comfortable life. We also discovered in the story that just outside the rich man’s gate laid a beggar named Lazarus. As fate would have it, they both died…Lazarus got an angelic escort to heaven while the rich man woke up in hell. One of the first things I noticed in the story that seemed in stark contrast to the reality that I had experienced in the Home for the Dying…was that it was the rich man who died without the name, not the beggar! The following is an excerpt from my journal…
Today I saw a boy about the age of sixteen die. He was a poor boy brought in from the street. No one knew his name or why he was in the condition that he was in. I cannot help thinking of the boy and the life that he must have lived. It breaks my heart that the boy died without a name, or did he? In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, it is the poor beggar who is named, not the rich man. For the rich man, his riches and luxurious lifestyle made up his identity on earth. In the end the rich man woke up in hell, known only as the “rich man.” The poor beggar, on the other hand, was probably not known by very many people on earth, especially by the rich man, whose gate he sat at every day. In the end the rich man received a proper burial, but the poor man received a proper escort! The beggar was no longer known for his poverty, but was known personally as Lazarus. The well-known rich man was simply referred to by his riches (with which he had none left).
I wonder whose gate the boy used to sit in front of? Could it have been mine? How can I enjoy my riches, my daily showers, my more than sufficient food, my bed and clean clothes, when there are many Lazarus’ out there desiring to get the crumbs of my wealth? Matthew 7: 21-23 says, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord, ’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father, who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, ’ did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you, away from me, you evil doers” (NIV).
Am I known? Am I known personally, by a name; or am I known generically by a title? To simply “do good deeds” to the poor is not enough! We must love them, and know them, because in our doing so we begin to know and be known by God. Matthew 25:40 says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me” (NIV). In Acts it was not only Cornelius’ prayer life, but his gifts to the poor that made him known by God (Acts 10:4). In this life we may cast out demons and do many miracles, but the only way we will enter the kingdom of heaven is by being known by God.
Mother Teresa taught that the poor are Jesus in his distressing disguise. As I thought about the story of the rich man and Lazarus I came to the conclusion that the rich man did not go to hell because he was rich…but because he did not care! 1 John 3:17 tells us that if someone has enough money and sees someone in need and is not moved by compassion, how can the love of God be in that person? The mere fact that the rich man lived life not moved by the poor at his front gate was a reflection of a deeper issue in his heart. From that moment on, my wife and I stated that we would forever live a life that asks, “Who is at our front gate?” If the poor are Jesus in his distressing disguise, then following Jesus is sort of like playing hide-and-go-seek, because there are many faces of poverty. We learned our first time in India that when we connect with those on the streets, we are in fact connecting with Jesus.
Now fast forward to December 2011, Lara and I have been married for 15 years and have three daughters (Alexa age 12, Moriah age 10, and India age 4). We now have the opportunity to spend a month in India at a children’s home that a friend of ours started. Since our first time in India, we have been working tirelessly serving folks in Philadelphia through Iglesia del Barrio, the Simple Way, Mission Year, Timoteo, and just trying to be good neighbors. We have loved our life in Philly and have had the joy of seeing Jesus in his many disguises throughout the years. But to be honest, we were tired and needed a little refreshing.
One of the things that impressed me about the children’s home we stayed at was that the children and staff loved Jesus… they were crazy about Him. There are 48 children and youth who each have their own amazing story of their journey from poverty to this home of love. The thing that I loved most about the home was that they weaved worship into the fabric of their lives.
After a couple of nights of being there, we found ourselves around a campfire. Initially, to the delight of my pre-teen, they played some Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez and there was a lot of dancing and acting crazy as all kids around the world are prone to do. Then some worship music was put on. Some of the kids sat down, others walked around, but they all took the time to be at the feet of Jesus… they worshiped him. Just prior to our time of worship, the kids were challenged to pray for my family and not to be shy if God gave them a word for us. As the music played on, my mind began to flashback to the times I had in college where several buddies of mine would spend hours praying and singing in the little chapel there, worshiping God. As the music went on, I realized that since we moved to Philly I had spent so much time loving Jesus on the streets that I have neglected loving Him on my knees through worship. Eventually one of the young men living in the home came up to me and said he had an impression in his mind that he wanted to share with me that he felt was from the Lord. He said he saw an old tape player (stereo) that was dusty…and it was time to dust it off and put it to use. Immediately the cassette player that I had used to play worship music back in college came to my mind!
The motto we are adopting this year is “prayer is not preparation for the work… it is the work.” I look forward to continuing the life-long game of hide-and-seek on the streets…but I feel better equipped having spent some time on my knees seeking instructions first.
Chris Lahr is a Recruiter and the Academic Director for Mission Year. He is also a part of the Simple Way in Philadelphia. He is a writer and a speaker. For information about having Chris speak, email Jen Casselberry.