Throughout the year we are bombarded with requests for donations. Whether it’s through snail mail, email, telephone (I really mean cell phone, who has a landline anymore?), internet, TV and even at the till of our local retail or grocery store.
In the back of our minds we know we should give to help others; that its the right thing to do. However, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by all of the requests and needs, so we tend to default to doing nothing at all, especially where money is concerned. After all, didn’t Jesus say that the poor will always be among us?
As I continue with The ABC’s of Scripture and Christians Who Lived Them, I want to introduce you to another Scripture and a Christian couple who were passionate about helping the poor, but also helping the Church become aware of the needs of those outside of it’s four walls.
Deuteronomy 15:10-11 (NLT)
“Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do.”
The whole East End of London reeked of crime, misery, hopelessness and despair. In the year 1861, almost every other shop along the Mile End Road in London’s slum region was a pub or a tavern.
A tall, neatly dressed man in a black suit, with a wide brimmed hat, walked purposefully up the crowded, filthy street, looking completely out of place. He took in the drunken men and half-dressed women; the toddlers and stray dogs foraging for food, while mothers, filthy and drunk, passed bottles of gin to their children.
This only made him more determined as he stepped into the doorway of a red-bricked tavern, aptly named THE BLIND BEGGAR, and pulled out his Bible.
In a deep voice, heavy with compassion and conviction he called out over the revelry, “There is a heaven in East London for everyone who will stop and look to Christ as a personal Savior!”
Someone hit him with a rotten egg. Others scoffed and laughed.
He challenged them, “Why do you drink your wages away while your wives and children are at home without food or shoes on their feet?” This brought a sudden silence.
In that same deep, calm voice he invited them, “Come to the tent service at Whitechapel this evening and meet a Savior who loves you!” He prayerfully left them to their jeers and taunts.
YOU NEVER KNOW WHO GOD WILL TOUCH
However, later that night, in a large canvas tent, the ‘riff raff’ of the East End began filling the rows of wooden benches. They were rowdy, reeked of gin and sweat but were curious. Among them was a professional boxer named Peter Monk, who later described what happened that night:
“There he was holding forth, surrounded by the blackguards of Whitechapel, who in them days were the greatest vagabonds you could meet anywhere on God’s earth.”
As the crowd mocked and laughed, the tall man in the dark suit began singing until he almost drowned out their noise. Monk threw down his coat and stood by the preacher and “in two minutes all those blackguards were as quiet as lambs.”
By the end of the preacher’s sermon that burly boxer was kneeling at the front of that make-shift church, with a dozen others, asking Jesus to be Lord of his life. Peter Monk became the preacher’s self-appointed body guard as the tent meetings continued every night and three times on Sundays for the following six weeks!
The preacher was convinced that the salvation of the soul was paramount to the salvation of the body and that nothing would change in the slums of London without Jesus changing hearts.
He might only see a dozen or so turn to Jesus in one night, but their conversions were usually radical and life changing. Pub owners resented the affect he and his group of do-gooders were having on their businesses. They were losing some of their best customers.
MOTIVATING THE CHURCH
Meanwhile, on the West End of London, another meeting was being held in a stately church with stained glass windows and ornate pews. The audience was well dressed, well behaved and well to do. They were as far removed from the East Enders as the east is from the west. The message they heard was forceful, articulate, eloquent and brought many to tears of conviction.
A PLACE NO RESPECTABLE CHURCH-GOER WOULD GO
What was particularly unusual was that it was a woman standing in the pulpit, full of the Holy Spirit, preaching a message that was stirring the hearts of the comfortably churched. Women had their place but it certainly wasn’t behind a pulpit! However, this woman was convinced that God poured out his gifts on both male and female, for the sake of the gospel.
So, while her husband, the tall man in the dark suit, fearlessly preached the gospel and suffered abuse at the hands of the godless on the East End, she was the bell ringer that made the West Enders aware of the deep need on the other side of their city; a place no respectable Christian would dare go.
As drunkards and the poor got saved at William’s evangelistic meetings (only 60 that first year but the number would grow), the new believers in Jesus were not welcomed into churches. So, in 1865, William held services in one of many donated buildings, calling their church the Christian Mission. Thirteen years later, in 1878, the name would officially be changed to The Salvation Army Church.
But the Booth’s had a growing family of eight children, and if they were going to do what God had so obviously blessed them to do, they needed financial support. They could not do this on their own.
The needs on the East End were great – overwhelming, in fact. But to do nothing was something William and Catherine could not have upon their consciences. As William preached to the outcasts, whom the churches and their clergy were not interested in reaching, Catherine challenged the materially wealthy, especially the women who came to hear her.
FROM POODLES TO THE POOR
Her gentle manner and persuasive words helped “turn their sympathies from poodles and terriers to destitute women and children.” Philanthropists, businessmen and the well-to-do were moved to give generously, making it possible for the Booth’s ‘army’ of volunteers to penetrate Satan’s stronghold with the good news of Christ.
SERVING TOGETHER AS A FAMILY
The Booth children also joined their parents in serving the poor in their soup kitchens and clothing banks. They often heard their father say, “These are our people. These are the people I want you to live for and bring to Christ.” Two of their children, Bramwell and Evangeline, would later become Generals in the Salvation Army.
“While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight. While little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight. While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight. While there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight. I’ll fight to the very end!” William Booth wrote.
So, this is why we give: to enable those, who are called of God, to reach the poor and those in need throughout our world. Alone we can do nothing of any great significance. Together we will make a difference in people’s lives.
Yes, there will always be the poor and destitute but they don’t need to stay that way; not when there are those with a heart to help them spiritually and practically.
And share the love of God through Christ.
However, people, like the Booths, could not do it alone. Because people volunteered and gave financial help, by 1912, when William passed on ‘to receive his prize’, the Salvation Army had spread to 58 countries and colonies. Now they are in almost every country in the world helping in emergencies, working towards social justice, helping the elderly, homeless and young people.
Obviously, we can’t give to every need and ministry out there. We can prayerfully consider who combines sharing the gospel and helping the poor within our own city, as well as globally. A little goes a long way when its combined with the gifts and prayers of others.
And God, who is so incredibly generous, promises to bless us, especially when we have the right attitude as we give.
I hope you found William and Catherine’s story inspiring! Feel free to comment.