This past weekend we took fifteen of our students on a poverty simulation in Waco, Texas. It was an amazing experience watching both students and adults alike struggle with the realities that those in poverty face every single day. Hunger, helplessness, and vulnerability were constant companions during our forty two hour immersion. The weekend concluded on Sunday morning with worshiping at The Church Under the Bridge, which is pretty much just what it sounds like - a church that meets every Sunday under a highway overpass in downtown Waco.
It's a beautiful thing to see such a diverse mixture of people gathered together - not confined by the barriers of economic status or race - to simply worship the Creator.
One of the most powerful moments in the service came right before the message. The minister announced that one of the "rock stars for Jesus" was going to lead us in a song. Slowly, from the back of the crowd, a middle-aged man named Claude limped towards the stage. The right side of his body appeared to be paralyzed from some sort of disability, as he struggled to force his limbs to take each additional step. His weathered face and hands, along with his stained and worn out clothes, clearly testified that he knew the rigors of poverty and homelessness all too well, like a guest who had overstayed his welcome.
As Claude began to speak in the microphone, it also became clear that our new song leader suffered from a strong speech impediment and possible mental disability. His words were slow and deep, but slurred and hindered, like each syllable required the effort of his whole being. As he gained his composure, he began to sing:
"Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong; they are weak, but He is strong"
It was out of tune, off pitch, and absolutely beautiful. Then, right on cue, all two hundred people joined in the chorus, "Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so."
In that moment, with the least of "the least of these" standing and leading God's people in worship - not divided by rich or poor, black or white, male or female - time stood still underneath a bridge in Waco, Texas.
It was like God pulled back the curtain and said, "Behold, the Kingdom of God. Welcome to it."