Caring for “The Least of These”
The woman looked out through a large hole in the broken screen door at the three of us standing on her creaking porch. She was bundled up in an old ragged sweat jacket against the cold. There were no lights in the house. It was just as obvious there was no heat, though it had to be in the low 40s outside. The outside of the house was as ramshackle as the inside appeared to be. The wooden sides hadn’t seen paint in at least 20 years and the bare wood was showing signs of rot with many pieces of wood conspicuously missing, leaving holes in the side of the house.
We were in West Virginia near the town of Marlinton in Pocahontas County, working with a local Baptist church to give out Christmas bins to children in need. She told us that her three grandchildren lived in the house with her, though they were not there at the time. We offered to leave the bins with her. These Christmas bins were based on the shoeboxes given out by a wonderful international charity organization, the Samaritan’s Purse. The Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes are a Christmas tradition for hundreds of thousands. As the church we were partnered with did not want to give out school supplies and backpacks in the middle of the year, we decided to use the idea of Christmas bins as a way to provide some Christmas cheer and needed supplies in the weeks before the Christmas season. Our bins were filled with personal hygiene items, some toys, and some socks or gloves. It wasn’t a lot to leave for children who obviously had nothing, but it was something at least.
The woman agreed that we could leave the bins, so I took each one and handed them one at a time through the hole in the screen door to her. As she took them, I got a look inside. I can see the room still. There was very little furnishings in what served as the living room of the house. There was one old wooden ladder back style chair and one old wooden table. There were no other surfaces to sit on. Laying on the floor beside the front door was a thin, bare twin sized mattress with a couple of old sheets laying on it, testimony that the mattress was used by one or more of the people as a bed. The woman took each Christmas bin and turned, laying it down on the mattress to keep it off the floor.
I have seen need before, but I have never seen the abject poverty that was in evidence in this section of town. One of the houses we drove by was literally in the process of falling down, yet it was obviously still inhabited. None of the houses looked capable of retaining the heat that will be necessary as winter sets in, with temperatures dipping down into the teens on a number of nights.
James wrote What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. James 2:14–17
The Appalachian region of America is one of the poorest and most rural areas in the nation. The people of this area are proud, but many are in a desperate situation. It is one thing to recite platitudes about the need to help them. It is another thing indeed to BE the hands and feet of Jesus to them, offering help and comfort. In offering food and clothing, we open the door to share the love and hope of Christ with those who have lost hope in the world. The wisest man who ever lived had the following to say about our treatment of the poor and destitute.
Prov 19:17 He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.
Prov 22:9 He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor.
Prov 28:27. He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.
Jesus made the observation in Matthew 25 that, what we have done unto “the least of these” who are in need, we have done to Him. Our service to our fellow man is a direct reflection of our service to our Savior.
This Christmas, will you open your heart to those who need it most? It’s time to put our faith to work, reaching “the least of these” for God.
Christopher M Jones
Appalachian Hope Ministries