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A Different Kind of Poverty

January 18, 2016

I was in Mali, West Africa, with a handful of Americans. One day we went to a local crafts market in the capital city of Bamako. It was like something out of an old Sci-Fi movie. Mali had recently had a military coup and a serious conflict with militant Islamists caused most foreigners to leave the country. We must have looked like dollar signs bouncing on pogo sticks as we entered the outdoor market that day. Immediately we were greeted, followed, and hounded by desperate vendors shoving their goods in our faces, begging us to buy them. It was a full court press that would have made Rick Pitino proud. Then, all of a sudden, it stopped.

In the ongoing chaos that was surrounding me, I failed to hear the Islamic call to prayer. While a vendor cordially sat us down in chairs, everyone filled the open areas and lined up shoulder-to-shoulder, facing the same direction. They began to bow in sync as they recited prayers. After a few minutes it was back to full blown, hand-to-hand, shopping combat.

I’ve seen video and images of the Islamic call to prayer. This, however, was my first time to experience it in person. It felt a bit like a pied piper summoned and everyone snapped into a trance. As I sat there, I sensed the spiritual darkness and the hopelessness of empty ritual. Up until this point, I was confronted with the overwhelming poverty and physical need, now I was face-to-face with the greater reality – the overwhelming spiritual need of the Mali people.

Campus ministers have a responsibility to engage students with God’s heart for lost peoples in inconvenient places.

It’s easy for us, as Americans, to want to help alleviate the immediate physical and economic hardships in places like Mali since we’re blessed with material comforts. Those things are important and certainly part of what we do, but our overwhelming priority must be to take the life-transforming “Light of Christ” to people living in spiritual poverty. God wants to raise up and send out a wave of “harvest workers” into these areas and many will come from university student ministry.

As leaders in campus ministry, we have a responsibility to engage our students with God’s heart for the lost peoples in inconvenient places. We have a long way to go in Chi Alpha, but we’re trying. We’re leading our students on strategically focused short-term missions trips. We’re challenging them to give a year of their lives in cross-cultural missions service when they graduate, and then asking them to pray about continuing for a lifetime. We’re encouraging students to be generous senders as well as befriend international students who study on their campuses.

There’s no greater place on earth from which to impact the nations. The task is enormous but the opportunity is unparalleled. We can do this, if we will.