Trindades Macapa House

I am the third from the left of the boys in the forefront of this photo

I lived on a tiny island on the Amazon until I was 7. The hut where my mom delivered me and five of my other siblings had no running water, no electricity, no bathrooms, no windows (only holes in the wall), no stove, no furniture, no beds, no books, no medicines, no shoes, no toys, no agendas for future planning. We were living from day-to-day.

We had no schools and the hospitals were in the big city two hours away by boat. Since my father was a fisherman, we were not starving, but that doesn’t mean we were thriving either. Parasites and contaminated water were slowly killing us. We moved from the island in 1967, sometime after my father came to faith in Christ, and that is humanly speaking the reason I can write these lines here today.

Shortly after we moved to the city, one of my sisters died from chicken pox. My mother had other children and soon we were 9. Though we were no longer islanders, we were still not out of the woods. We were not starving but we were severely under fed. As a humble pastor, my father struggled to make enough money to put food on the table for his large family. We survived with help from friends and aid from President Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress” food program.

We knew we were poor. No one needed to explain that to us. All we had to do was go outside our door and look at some other people. Or walk to school and wait until recess – the kids from well to do families were the ones who could buy snacks, drink sodas, and speak in a foreign tongue to each other, since their families constantly traveled overseas. I normally chose to stay in the classroom to avoid shame or the embarrassment of a noisy stomach.

Fast forward to today. My brothers and sisters are not millionaires but we have done relatively well (though, some of my siblings might argue, I not so much!). We have businessmen, lawyers, teachers, musicians, and government workers in my family. They all have their own houses and drive good cars. Most importantly, they are involved in their churches and their children are following Christ. My nieces and nephews will do even much better financially than we did.

What happened? We got infected by the wholeness of the Gospel. Now, I know this might sound odd to some of you but the fact is the Gospel saved our souls but it also saved our bodies. When Bill Burk, the man God used to bring my father to Christ, came to our house, he brought the Bible but he also brought a little package of medicine for parasites, which he gave to my mom. He also gave us plenty of vitamins on his monthly visits and those helped compensate for the deficiencies in our diet.

My point in all of this is when you want to help the poor, don’t just send money, give something that will help someone get their feet on the first rung of that economic ladder. Bill Burk gave us parasite medicine, the church gave my dad a job in the city, and the city opened up so many opportunities for growth and education for all my family. We are a hard working group of people and with God’s help we climbed out of poverty into a life of where we are not lacking materially and have prospered spiritually, glory to God.

I believe this is what God asks us to do on behalf of the poor. There are 2003 references to the poor in the Bible – that should be enough to get our attention. But there is more: God promises to bless those who help the poor. Check Deuteronomy 15, a passage I am teaching from this Sunday at Grace Church as we talk about “Serving the Poor.”

As far as ministries I personally believe are doing a tremendous job alleviating poverty around the world, please check the following:

Water for Good (my good friend, Jim Hocking, needs help right now as their offices got looted again in the Central African Republic. Jim’s work to help the poor and empower local people to help themselves is phenomenal).

World Vision (take a look at their catalog and give a goat to someone (no, not your mother-in-law, someone in Africa!) for Christmas this year, instead of spending all that money on unneeded gifts).

Heifer International (genius ideas for gifts to the poor).

Hope International (a local ministry that “gets it” when it comes to empowering and not cheating people with aid).

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA