"Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?"
The year before we moved to Tennessee, I homeschooled my children. Part of their reading curriculum involved a short little book called The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. I read the book when I was in elementary school. Its impact on me was profound. Although I had since forgotten certain details about the story, I remembered that there was a little Polish girl named Wanda who was the central figure of the book. Wanda was from an extremely poor family who lived on the wrong side of the train tracks that ran through town. The small home in which she and her family lived was located in a development on the outskirts of town, Boggins Heights, whose mentioned name brought immediate judgment and disdain regarding her socioeconomic situation.
Everyday, Wanda wore the same blue dress to school. The daily teasing of Wanda about her wardrobe started the way a lot of bullying starts--as a joke that gets a laugh where one shouldn't be enjoyed. Two classmates, among others, started asking her how many dresses Wanda owned. Wanda always replied the same way:
"One hundred dresses. All lined up in my closet."
This response would always bring snickers from the other children because Wanda's outfit never changed. Wanda Petronski was the butt of a cruel joke played on her by insensitive children who had no interest in her existence other than to taunt her with their cruelty. Wanda never retaliated but quietly went about her schoolwork, seeming to fade into the walls of the classroom. She was not included in the popular girls' circle. She always ate her lunch alone and walked home by herself across the railroad tracks, back into obscurity.
One day, Wanda was not in the classroom. The only reason why she was missed was because of a letter the teacher read from Wanda's father explaining the reason for her absence. I don't want to give away the rest of the story. If you have never read the story, you simply must. If you have children, you must read it to them. Because of our move to Tennessee, my children and I never read the story together until last year. We all were gathered on our king-sized bed as I read the story to my three. I couldn't finish the last several chapters without choking through my sobs. My nine-year-old buried her head in my shoulder as we cried together over Wanda Petronski.
Wanda did have one hundred dresses, but you will have to read the story to find out how that was possible. Wanda changed her class. This little Polish girl from the wrong side of the tracks changed those who had taunted her, although she never saw the profound change her quiet ways had wrought on those around her.
I know many Wanda Petronskis on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. To look at my beloved Congolese brothers and sisters, the first thing that would strike you is how incredibly poor they are. They, too, only have one dress or pair of pants that they wear until the sun bleaches the color out of them and the fibers break down from constant wear. The average family of eight to twelve has one hundred dollars in buying power a year. Like Wanda, they have been born on the "wrong side of the tracks." God has ordained for His own purpose and will to put them in a country that is overlooked. They live and die in obscurity, never experiencing a fraction of the blessing that I have in my refrigerator or what hangs in my closet.
One hundred dollars a year. What does that buy me? Not even a full week's worth of groceries anymore. I can so easily lose sight of how blessed I am. If I am not investing in things of eternity, that one hundred dollars--a year's sustenance for many Congolese--can be spent on things that will ultimately burn.
One hundred dollars a year. What does that buy those in Congo who love Jesus? Joy that springs from the Hope that is within them, not on anything that is earthly. The book of Revelation tells me that I, along with them, have been invited to a feast--the marriage supper of the Lamb of God-- in heaven. Jesus, could I just relish my sweet African family's faces as they savor that heavenly food and not eat anything myself for a while as I watch their hunger stilled forever? Could I see You clothe them in dazzling white linen, which will never lose its brilliance or wear out, and see You wipe away their tears? Could I be an eyewitness to the enormous crowns they will lay at Your feet that their faithfulness with the hundred dollars a year You gave them earned them? Can I walk a few steps behind as they enter those heavenly dwelling places that their sharing in the sufferings of Christ and their perseverance have built for them while they toiled as wayfaring strangers on this earth below?
Who is poor? I have so much, yet I can easily feel as though I have been slighted when I compare myself to the next person who has more than enough, just like me. Like Wanda Petronski beside her classmates, the Congolese have far more than I do. They are truly the richest ones by far. Life that is real life is waiting just on the other side of eternity. The hundred dresses I may wear on this side of heaven will look like the rags that many of them will forever leave behind one day when they see You face to face. Oh, may I have helped them here.
"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy." Proverbs 31:8-9
Jesus, eternity is going to level the playing field. The poor are so close to Your heart. Let them be close to mine. Help me to see that I am just a steward of Your resources. Help me to not turn a blind eye to those You love so dearly. Let me, like Wanda's classmates, be forever changed because of the privilege of having to wrestle with my priorities.