Monday, July 20, 2009

Serving "The Least of These", Rural and Urban

Kyle Bauman
Mt. Zion UMC & Hebron UMC
Grandy, NC

"Truly I tell you, just as you id it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." ~Jesus, Matt. 25:40

I came into this summer with some knowledge of the numerous ways churches can serve "the least of these" - the poor, the sick, the troubled. I'd experienced many of those ways - soup kitchens, construction missions, food pantries - first-hand through mission trips and service projects. What I'm coming to realize, as I reflect on this summer that's all too quickly drawing to a close, is that almost all of those experiences came in urban settings. That's the setting that usually comes to mind when I think of "the least", those who come to a soup kitchen that serves thousands of meals or a shelter with hundreds of beds. I have come to see, however, that there is an equal need for the Church to be in mission to "the least" in rural settings, offering the same services that can help the urban poor.

I have seen this summer the unique needs of these services in the rural setting. While urban service ministries often seem to be limited by their capacity and an inability to serve all of those who need help, rural ministries are more often limited by lack of availability. While there may not be enough capacity in the soup kitchens of Chicago to feed all of those in need there, the situation in rural settings may be the complete lack of such a service. In Currituck County, where I'm serving this summer, there is no food pantry to serve the entire southern half of the county. Right now, there is a truck that comes from the regional food bank once a month to distribute food, and this program is only a year old. The poor of Currituck County are as under-served as the poor in our cities, but here it is because of a lack of services, not a lack of capacity. The pastor of my charge has been working to start a food pantry at Mt. Zion, but the process has taken several months and may continue for several more.

My experience this summer has taught me, among many things, that our churches, whether rural or urban, have the opportunity to meet the needs of "the least of these". There is never a lack of opportunity to be in service to the poor, even if poverty is well-hidden. It is the call of our churches to be actively seeking ways to be in service, because often these opportunities will not present themselves until many have gone without the help they need.