What Does It Mean To Be Poor?

Written by Scott

Topics: Archives, Faith, Family

JoAnn read this the other night, and it’s a great story that we should think about and reconsider what it means to be poor, or for that matter, rich.  Especially within the Church.

Why within the Church? Well, first, you’ll see in the story. Second, we often set up programs or events within the Church without considering the impact on people, be it time, money, or other resources.

Take, for example, the newly-popular daddy-daughter dances. Phenomenal idea. But say to cover expenses, the church charges $20/person…no big deal, right? Except for the father who would love to take his 4 daughters, but can’t afford the $100 plus the cost of the dresses for his princesses. How would you feel in his shoes?

Or the Women’s ministries who put on retreats and spa days without considering those that cannot afford it.

Yet these things and many others are done daily in the name of “fellowship”. Yet these concerns are often dismissed out of hand with condescending remarks like “we can’t please everybody!” or “they chose to have a large family”, or as in a real-life story JoAnn passed on to me, someone saying “can’t you just put it on a credit card?”.  Heck, if this is fellowship, we might as well go back to the old Catholic practice of buying absolution…

Read this, and re-think what it means to be poor…and what it means to be rich.

The Rich Family In Our Church

Eddie Ogan
I’ll never forget Easter 1946. I was 14, my little sister, Ocy, was 12 and my older sister, Darlene, 16. We lived at home with our mother, and the four of us knew what it was to do without many things.

My Dad had died years before, leaving Mom with seven kids to raise and no money. By 1946 my older sisters were married, and my brothers had left home.

A month before Easter the minister of our church announced that a special offering would be taken to help a poor family. He asked everyone to save and give sacrificially. When we got home we talked about what we could do. We decided to buy 50 pounds of potatoes and live on them for a month. This would allow us to save $20 of our grocery money for the offering. When we thought that if we kept our electric lights turned out as much as possible and didn’t listen to the radio, we’d save money on that month’s electric bill. Darlene got as many house- and yard- cleaning jobs as possible, and both of us babysat for everyone we could. For 15 cents, we could buy enough cotton loops to make three potholders to sell for $1. We made $20 on potholders.

That month was one of the best of our lives. Every day we counted the money to see how much we had saved. At night we’d sit in the dark and talk about how the poor family was going to enjoy having the money the church would give them. We had about 80 people in church, so we figured that whatever amount of money we had to give, the offering would surely be 20 times that much. After all, every Sunday the minister re- minded everyone to save for that sacrificial offering.

The day before Easter, Ocy and I walked to the grocery store and got the manager to give us three crisp $20 bills and one $10 bill for all our change. We ran all the way home to show Mom and Darlene. We had never had so much money before. That night we were so excited we could hardly sleep. We didn’t care that we wouldn’t have new clothes for Easter; we had $70 for the sacrificial offering. We could hardly wait to get to church!

On Sunday morning, rain was pouring. We didn’t own an umbrella and the church was over a mile from our home, but it didn’t seem to matter how wet we got. Darlene had cardboard in her shoes to fill the holes. The cardboard came apart and her feet got wet. But we sat in church proudly. I heard some teenagers talking about the Smith girls having on their old dresses. I looked at them in their new clothes, and I felt so rich.

When the sacrificial offering was taken, we were sitting on the second row from the front. Mom put in the $10 bill, and each of us girls put in a $20. As we walked home after church, we sang all the way. At lunch Mom had a surprise for us. She had bought a dozen eggs, and we had boiled Easter eggs with our fried potatoes! Late that afternoon the minister drove up in his car. Mom went to the door, talked with him for a moment, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. We asked what it was, but she didn’t say a word. She opened the envelope and out fell a bunch of money. There were three crisp $20 bills, one $10 and seventeen $1 bills. Mom put the money back in the envelope. We didn’t talk, just sat and stared at the floor. We had gone from feeling like millionaires to feeling like poor white trash.

We kids had had such a happy life that we felt sorry for anyone who didn’t have our mom and dad for parents and a house full of brothers and sisters and other kids visiting constantly. We thought it was fun to share silverware and see whether we got the fork or the spoon that night. We had two knives which we passed around to whoever needed them.

I knew we didn’t have a lot of things other people had, but I’d never thought we were poor. That Easter Day I found out we were. The minister had brought us the money for the poor family, so we must be poor. I didn’t like being poor. I looked at my dress and worn-out shoes and felt so ashamed that I didn’t want to go back to church. Everyone there probably knew we were poor.

We sat in silence for a long time. Then it got dark and we went to bed. All that week, we girls went to school and came home, and no one talked much. Finally on Saturday, Mom asked us what we wanted to do with the money. What did poor people do with money? We didn’t know; we’d never known we were poor. We didn’t want to go to church on Sunday, but Mom said we had to. Although it was a sunny day, we didn’t talk on the way. Mom started to sing, but no one joined in and she only sang one verse.

At church we had a missionary speaker. He talked about how churches in Africa made buildings out of sun-dried bricks, but they needed money to buy roofs. He said $100 would put a roof on a church. The minister said, “Can’t we all sacrifice to help these people?”

We looked at each other and smiled for the first time in a week. Mom reached into her purse and pulled out the envelope. She passed it to Darlene. Darlene gave it tome and I handed it to Ocy. Ocy put it in the offering. When the offering was counted, the minister announced that it was a little over $100. The missionary was excited. He had not expected such a large offering from our small church. He said, “You must have some rich people in this church!” Suddenly, it struck us! We had given $87 of “that little over $100.” We were the rich family in the church! Hadn’t the missionary said so? From that day on I’ve never been poor again. I’ve always remembered how rich I am because I have Jesus.

3 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. mal says:

    Thanks for the tender reminder of what it truly means to be poor.

  2. Traber Cass says:

    I see your point but… We charge $5 each for our father daughter ball and usually have a little money left over to go toward setup for the next year, and the ladies (my wife is the leader of the crew) put on a quality time. This was our 4th year. It has grown each year to the point that we are out of room and are now moving pews to use the worship area. It's not all just fun, also….. for the last two years we've had men who otherwise hadn't darkened the doorway of a church, so to speak, who are now regular attenders and/or members. We also have people who will help others out who can't afford retreats or camp or a ladies' conference. Of course, as you say, the key is realizing where our riches and security really are, along with realizing the relational basis of the church. I think it is possible to hold events and have ministries without leaving people behind or causing ostracism or isolation. Appreciate your post… I read a lot of 'em… usually don't voice my appreciation like I should. 🙂

  3. Rebecca K says:

    Yep, i agree. I've been thinking about this a lot in the last few days. We have pretty much gotten used to the fact that we can't do most of the things we'd like to do, and very for us, most of those things are outside the church, and occasionally, we've been blessed with say, Nik and chloe being paid for to go to Bible camp, but overall, i can completely relate- a bigger issue for me lately has been time. Upon leaving our old church, that had a bazillion activities and whatnot, to a church that has less activities, its been SO refreshing. How often do churches in particular expect young moms or dads to pull the weight of what was traditonally older ladies roles. Since most middle aged women are in the workforce, now the pressure falls to the moms of younger kids who likely are struggling to just meet their own family's needs. So similar to your post, its a TIME budget breaker. Much to think about.