To draw closer to Jesus, get to know and offer support to the poor, His living relatives, who are walking the earth in our time!
Hi, my name is Donna Power and I’m from the Brisbane-based charity, Project Kindy. We fundraise for kindergarten children in extreme poverty in rural Malawi, Africa, providing them with daily polenta-style lunches and education that prepares them for success at primary school.
John was a child of our kindergarten until a month ago. He lives in a subsistence farming community in the village called, Katundu, and is among the poorest demographics in the world. He stopped coming to the kindy last month, because he was feeling shy since the mother could not afford to buy for him new clothes. Tattered shirts and torn shorts are commonplace in these villages, so his clothes must have been very threadbare to stop him from leaving his home. At the tender age of 4 he has felt the isolating hand of poverty push him into the distance, away from connections with community.
His mother, Flonnie, is 28 years old and she has another child of 11 months. The husband and father left the family with no reason. Flonnie is trying to help her family by selling charcoal but there is no money for clothes, school fees, shoes or even food.
When Sr Giovanna, the Canossian Sister we work with at the grassroots level, realised he was not at kindy, she and the teacher searched for him in the village. They discovered the barrier that poverty had created and provided John with a uniform and warmly invited him back to the kindy to receive daily lunch, pre-school education and most importantly, connection with the rest of his community.
Flonnie is very grateful that some of the burden of poverty has been lifted off her and her children. Her son has food and a uniform, and he is learning to interact with others and to take care of himself. She says that words don’t seem to express the depth of relief and gratitude she feels for the community who has loved her son in this way.
Agnes is a mother at another one of our kindergartens, in the villaged called Nsanama. She was born in the village of Nsanama, and she could go to school only until year 5. Her parents were farmers and they could not afford to send her to school past this point, which is commonplace in Malawi. In spite of this, she always treasured the gift and the importance of education. She told herself that she will do all that is possible to send her children to school.
She says that the promise she made to herself – to educate her children – is still very much alive in her mind and heart now that she is 39 and has 6 children. Her older four children are now in primary school after going to our kindergarten where her youngest two are currently enrolled. She says that she is very happy when they come back from kindy and they can sing in English, count and read and even write their names. She says the school opens their mind and prepares them for the primary school.
Her children don’t have uniform and they go from home each morning without food, but the kindy and school provide a polenta-style lunch for them, so she is at peace.
Agnes said it was very difficult during the lock down, when the kindergarten and school were closed because of Covid 19. Her children could not get the polenta meal they rely on, and so they were hungry. Also, they spent the whole day playing and she realised they were losing interest in education and even forgetting what they had learned.
She wants them to grow and have a chance in life. Agnes says that faith and education are the two treasures to cling to in this life. Agnes is a very hardworking woman, still young and full of energy. She thanks the Lord for the gift of life and the family and is happy she had a chance to share her story with us.
When our family members suffer, we suffer too in a way. When someone offers relief to our family member, it means the world to us. For instance, when one of my child is having a hard time, I feel for her, and carry the burden along with her. On the other hand, when someone else in the community supports her, I feel filled with relief and gratitude for their kindness because they’ve had a healing or empowering impact on her.
God knows this about us because He wired us for connection. He loves families and there are many times that He teaches us a great deal about Himself through the frame of family life.
Our families profoundly shape us and reveal crucial information about us and this is also very true of Our Lord. God’s Living Word, the Scriptures, invite us to learn about Jesus in connection to His family. These insights are like rain from Heaven, the Bible says, coming down to us to nourish and bear fruit in our lives. It’s through the Old and New Testaments we can get to know God, the Father of Jesus, who is essential to our understanding of Christ Jesus, who is One with the Father and is the Word of Life for all eternity. It’s through the Gospels that we can get to know Mary, the Mother of Jesus and Joseph, his earthly ‘step father’, who show us that God’s invites and involves people to love Him and join in His redemptive work, too.
But, did you know that Jesus calls – no commands and provokes us – to get to know His own living relatives?
In the Matthew 25:34-40 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Jesus says:
34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’
Other versions say, as you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, or followers or simply ‘these’. But I have been drawn back to that interesting phrase in the NRSV, ‘who are members of my family’. It’s another way of saying my brothers and sisters, but it encourages me to think in a different way about how serious He takes all of this. Fascinatingly, He says they ‘are’ not ‘were’ His family, even though He says the actions took place in the past.
Jesus is inviting us to understand that He is connected to the suffering of the disadvantaged and heavily burdened people who are hungry, thirsty, lonely, naked, sick, imprisoned. He feels when they are made to suffer more. He feels when their chains are lifted. Why? Because they are His brothers, His sisters, His family. He is very close to them.
Why would Jesus give the poor such a high status as members of His family? This is a direct challenge to the popular human tendency to give the highest status to those people who have money, power, privilege and positioning. If we all honoured and loved the poor, what sort of society would we have? Wouldn’t it be different? We are called to do that at the level of the individual but also to challenge and heal systemic injustice that creates the disadvantage.
He is plainly saying that if we don’t empower, heal, visit, provide for and lift the burden of those who suffer, we won’t be spending eternity with Him. That is a very serious statement and one that we must hear as core to our Christian life. It’s not an optional extra, or a political left vs right argument. Jesus says, come and get to know my family, who are the least of your society, and you will understand my redemptive love more fully and you will relieve my own pain when you dress their wounds. And you will be close to me forever.
The stories I shared at the beginning are examples of how these two mothers in Malawi felt relief and hope when the community helped their children with kindergarten, ensuring hope for their future and daily food when there was none at home. It is a privilege to hear their stories, which they were happy to share with us. For me, Project Kindy has provided a formational experience where Jesus continues to shape my worldview and values as He calls me to listen to the poor in our world. Really listening means asking deeper questions about the shadows in our world and envisioning how to shine our lights more brightly. Listening to the poor provokes the comfortable part of me, the one that forgets the element of luck in life, to join in the work for Jesus’ family as well as my own.
Who is the poor that you could sit at the feet of and learn about Our Lord from? Who is suffering in your family, neighbourhood, church, school, work, state, nation, world? We can start by really listening to the poor and offering relief in one way or another. Let’s all do our bit to relieve the suffering of the least of these, who are members of Jesus’ family, and in doing so, draw close to Jesus Himself now and for all eternity.
I hope you have been inspired by the stories of John and his mum, Flonnie and Agnes and her 6 children, to love the poor because when you do, you’re loving Our Lord, too.