Wineskins Archive

January 6, 2014

Face By Face (Nov – Dec 1993)

Filed under: — @ 7:14 pm and

by Mike Cope
November – December, 1993

16Christians could ignore poverty and homelessness if it weren’t for one thing: faces. Faces full of wrinkles or freckles or despair or hope.

Like the face of 43-year-old Yetta Adams, a homeless womn whose death last Thanksgiving jerked a nation of people out of its post-turkey overdoes. Many homeless people die alone on a bench. That’s not enough to qualify as “news.” But this woman had the indelicate nerve to die on a bench in front of the Housing and Urban Development headquarters in Washington. HUD is the agency assigned the task of finding solutions to the homeless crisis. Whatever ideas Henry Cisneros and his agency surface will be too late for her.

Or the face of a seven-year-old child from an impoverished family in Abilene, Texas, who last december won a $25 shopping spree certificate from the Jaycees and who, when asked what she wanted, said she’d like mittens for yer young brothers, a t-shirt for her older brother, and a t-shirt for her dad.

Or the face of LaJoe Rivers, a young single mother trying to raise her children in the drug-saturated Henry Horner Homes project in Chicago. When Alex Kotlowitz raised the possibility of writing a book about her children and other children in the housing project, she replied, “But you know, there are no children here. They’ve seen too much to be children.”

I’m bad about ignoring faces. When I walk through a crowd, my mind tends to be elsewhere. I notice bodies rather than faces. But I have a feeling that Jesus of Nazareth saw faces. he saw the swollen eyes, the weathered lines, the ornery smirks. Through faces, he worked out his mission call: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18).

A few years ago I got to visit for about an hour with Tony Campolo, a Christian sociologist who teaches at Eastern College, in his office. After he described the difficulty every restoration group has maintaining forward motion, I asked him how a stagnant movement (there’s a good oxymoron!) can regain its momentum. Would it take healthier teaching? renewal in worship? vision by leaders?

“No, no, no,” he yelled. (I couldn’t ever tell that he is able to distinguish between an audience of 10,000 and an audience of one!) “Renewal comes by helping your people minister to the poorest of the poor. There they will see the face of Jesus. And that’s what restoration is all about.”

This issue of Wineskins doesn’t have an answer to poverty and homelessness. But it does offer a few modest suggestions. It doesn’t chronicle all the faces of suffering. But it portrays a few of them.

A church that wants to follow the eternal heart of God must cross some avenues, enter some housing projects, and peek down into some ditches. A church that wants to carry on the mission of Jesus must feed, teach, clothe, and care. One by one. Face by face.Wineskins Magazine

Mike Cope

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