“Glad Tidings to the Poor”: Poverty & Evangelization

Amy speaks to a local at Detroit’s Eastern Market.

I often evangelize at Eastern Market, a large farmer’s market near downtown Detroit. The market always attracts a lot of people from a variety of backgrounds: middle-class suburban families, affluent young professionals, as well as the homeless and inner-city poor. There’s also a mental health clinic less than a block away from the corner where we evangelize. This clinic draws individuals dealing with various financial, mental, physical, and spiritual challenges.

In my experience, the poor are far more receptive to evangelization than the wealthy. In the four years I have evangelized at the market, I would estimate that among those I have approached, 75% of the impoverished are happy to stop and talk about faith, and receive prayer and free sacramentals. By comparison, less than 25% of the middle and upper classes do the same. Likewise, my conversations with the poor tend to be longer and more in-depth while conversations with the wealthy tend to be shorter and hurried.

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

Luke 1:52

According to a PEW Research study, those with a household income of less than $30,000 adhere to various religious practices at significantly higher rates than those with an income of $100,000 or more. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the belief in Sacred Scripture: 63% of the poor believe that Scripture is the Word of God while only 45% of the wealthy do. Furthermore, 63% of the poor believe in hell while only 46% of the wealthy hold the same belief. Likewise, 60% of the poor pray daily while 45% of the wealthy do the same. Why is there such a disparity?

The trends also play out in the matter of scriptural interpretation.

The poor are often reminded of their own challenges and forces beyond their control. An impoverished man is well aware of his overdue rent, empty bank account, inability to pay for basic necessities, etc. He may often feel discouraged, resigned, and even humiliated. A wealthy person, however, may become complacent and lax (see the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:16-21). An affluent man has all of his basic needs provided as well as many luxuries, so it can be easy for him to take things for granted.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind…

Luke 4:18, cf. Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6

Poverty, whether it be voluntary or involuntary, allows detachment from material possessions and greater reliance on God. On the other hand, a wealthy man usually has a great attachment to his possessions and lesser reliance on God. We see this in the Gospel passages about the Rich Young Man (Matthew 19:16-30, Luke 18:18-30).

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, there’s an emphasis on Jesus preaching to the poor, the ostracized, and the neglected. In the Gospels, the poor and sick accept the gift of faith much more than the wealthy Pharisees, scribes, etc. In the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31) we read about a wealthy man who disregarded the law and the prophets and, in turn, neglected the needs of the poor man outside his door. As a result, the rich man receives punishment in eternity while the poor man receives eternal reward.

Abraham replied, “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.”

Luke 16:25

In both the Old and New Testaments, we see that God calls the least likely candidates to be prophets, messengers, and disciples. Nowhere is that more evident in the calling of the Apostles: humble, uneducated fisherman and an ostracized tax collector. Most of them were poor but all of them were despised in one way or another. We can remember the saying “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.”

For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

1 Corinthians 1:26-29

The poor are often overlooked, disrespected, and neglected. With this demographic, following the first two steps in our four-step method (Listen, Befriend, Proclaim, Invite) is especially important. Give special attention to the marginalized—anticipate their needs and special situations, sympathize with them, and treat them with the dignity that they deserve. Remind them that they are beloved children of God. Be quick to show compassion and offer prayer. When someone talks about their struggles with a chronic injury or disease, show sympathy and offer to pray for healing during that moment. If another speaks about a crisis in their life, listen to them, and at the appropriate time, give your testimony and talk about how your faith has brought you through difficult periods in your life. Show others that you genuinely care about their well-being which, more than anything, includes their faith and eternal salvation.

Author: Mark Nemecek

Mark earned a BFA in Graphic Design from College for Creative Studies in 2011. The following year, he started freelance work for SPSE. For several years, as a contractor, Mark managed SPSE’s Facebook page as well as most graphic design projects. Nemecek joined SPEI full-time in the spring of 2019. His day-to-day responsibilities include managing all social media platforms, editing videos for the online school, and completing all graphic design projects. Prior to joining SPEI, Mark worked at several technology firms over the course of a decade with a focus on User Interface Design.

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