By Dr. Kevin Thomas —
The journey out of poverty is a difficult one. In June of 1988, I took my first appointment in north Fayette County making $10,400/year plus a house. In October of that year, I got married. In December, when I graduated from the University of Alabama, the annual conference raised my salary to $11,000. So, on almost $917/month (gross), I started seminary in Memphis, and the expenses started to add up: weekly roundtrips to Memphis (172 miles each way), an apartment in Memphis, utilities on two homes, books, tuition, car payment ($171.32), and a child born in 1990. I remember Melissa and me shopping at Piggly Wiggly in Memphis with $40 to spend for the week: $10 for diapers, $10 for formula, and $20 for groceries for the two of us. I also remember having to buy groceries on a credit card, and, for years, the only gas I bought came from Texaco, because the only way I could pay for it was with my Texaco card. Raises kept coming but not as fast as debt. By my third year of seminary, I was making $14,500. I pushed on through school, though, as the debt piled up in hopes that graduation and a raise would set us free. I did graduate. I did get a raise—to $22,500—and then got cancer and a whole new set of bills. As a white, well-educated male in our society I struggled to pay bills while my creditors were getting quite a chunk of my payday. I’ll be honest. I made some bad decisions along the way, but even in the midst of hopeless debt, people try to find opportunities for a little entertainment, even when they can’t afford it.
The Bible is clear that those of us who are privileged carry a responsibility for those who are struggling. Leviticus 23:22 is just one of many examples. “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” There were people in our lives that lived those principles. The summer camp where we volunteered gave us $1000 one year for school. A Sunday school class gave a $500 scholarship. Ruth and Arvil Moore at Musgrove Chapel regularly stopped by the parsonage with a grocery bag filled with home grown beef: rib eyes, round steaks, and ground beef. Those people offered a hand up. Those gifts were an incredible financial help and a great boost to morale! They were doing God’s work!
Too many in the world use power and privilege to hold people captive. May we in the church use power and privilege to set people free!
“The Lord raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.” 1 Samuel 2:8