A year ago, anyone driving around Columbus, Ohio, was likely to see a billboard with the slogan, "Love God? End Poverty." They were placed throughout the city in promotion of the Columbus Justice Revival, a three-day event to revive Christians toward faith and justice. The connection seems obvious to me now. Do you love God? Then you should work to end poverty. How could I spend so many years in the church and not understand justice?
I grew up in the church and spent the past 15 years in full time ministry. I am a passionate evangelical. But, until a few years ago there was a clear disconnect between my faith and justice. Through a series of experiences such as Sojourners' conferences, the Justice Revival, Columbus Windchangers, and service mission trips at Ohio Wesleyan University, my faith was confronted by the reality of poverty and the injustice that perpetuates it. As I witnessed poverty first hand, the myths that I had long held about poverty unraveled.
Last year an OWU student approached me about some criticism she received at the suggestion of going to a soup kitchen as an outreach event. One of her co-leaders said, "The point of outreach is to evangelize. Unless we are sharing our faith, we cannot call it outreach." He would only compromise and go to the soup kitchen if they agreed to pass out gospel tracts to each person coming through the line. As we reflected on this conversation using the text found in Matthew 25, we came to the conclusion that giving a gospel tract to the poor is like handing Jesus his own business card. Maybe it's not the poor who need to be introduced to Jesus, but it's through the poor that He is introduced to us.
The Justice Revival was not just a three-day event, but something that continues to happen in Columbus and on Ohio Wesleyan's campus. After the Justice Revival a number of our students attended Sojourners' Pentecost '08 conference. Upon returning to campus in the fall they formed a student group focused on faith and justice, and this spring they are organizing an event called Rock-n-Justice featuring Rev. Steve Stockman and a performance by Derek Webb. They are also planning trips to lobby local state legislators, utilizing the skills they learned at the Pentecost training event last June.
I now understand the mandate given to me in the scriptures to love and serve the poor. The greatest commandment, to love God and love your neighbor, is as important as the great commission! The two are intertwined. Because this has become so real to me, I want to help others make the connection. That is why I am working to bring a delegation to The Mobilization to End Poverty event in April. The Mobilization will provide the perfect environment to inspire, equip, and send Christians to love God, love others, and work toward justice.
Lisa Ho is an assistant chaplain at Ohio Wesleyan University and participates in Sojourners' Windchangers Program.