Ministry to and with the Poor

By David A. Busic

John Wesley’s emphasis on ministry to the poor is well-documented. However, it is important to stress that Wesley believed working with and among the poor is not merely an act of compassion; it is a necessary aspect of the spiritual formation of every Christian. Thus, Wesley maintained that living with the poor is a work of mercy and a work of piety.

Wesley believed the gospel was good news to the poor. He made a practice of visiting the poor as a spiritual discipline, and encouraged—indeed, insisted—that his Methodists do the same. Even as an elderly man, Wesley risked his own health and well-being in the cold of winter, trudging through ankle-deep snow, to go publicly begging for funds on behalf of the suffering. Theodore Jennings suggests “[E]very aspect of Methodism was subjected to the criterion, how will this benefit the poor?” However, as Jennings points out, it was more than concern for the comfort of the poor that motivated Wesley; it was vitally important to him because he saw no other way to understand or identify with the poor than to be among them. For that reason, Wesley believed it was far better “to carry relief to the poor, than to send it,” because of the spiritual impact that it would have on the one bringing the help.

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Thus, Wesley’s understanding of ministry to and with the marginalized poor, sick, and imprisoned was more than compassion; as a means of grace for the Christian, it is indispensable to Wesleyan spirituality. These acts of mercy become the ways by which God works to establish the character of holiness in God’s people and to give growth in grace toward the recovery of the divine image.

Emphasis on the poor as a means of grace began to wane after Wesley’s death and as American Methodism matured. The Methodists were no longer the newcomers or a marginalized sect. Methodists had become successful in business, banking, politics, education, etc. Methodist church buildings began to change to accommodate the newly acquired affluence. Pipe organs and stained glass windows were installed in Methodist sanctuaries, soon followed by the practice of pew rentals as a way to raise congregational funds to pay for elaborate facilities, which further segregated the more prestigious Methodist members from other church members. Even the teaching of the doctrine of entire sanctification began to diminish to make room for more progressive ethical concerns.

The changing atmosphere was noticed. Prominent Methodists began to speak out against the injustice. In an effort not to lose this vital connection with the poor, outspoken leaders like Phineas Bresee began to call for a recapturing of the original vision for the poor. Bresee left a distinguished ecclesiastical career to return to his passion of ministry to and with the poor. Nazarene church buildings and formal dress were intentionally less pretentious and more simplified so that the poor would feel welcome and comfortable. Bresee’s passion for the poor was felt so keenly that he wrote to the first Nazarenes, “The evidence of the presence of Jesus in our midst is that we bear the gospel, particularly to the poor.”

Compassionate acts that serve the poor and oppressed are an important part of engaging in Christ’s incarnational ministry and advancing the kingdom of God. Additionally, what God will accomplish in these interactions is a means of grace for every believer. Discipleship in Wesleyan-Holiness ecclesiology depends on the pursuit of Christlikeness and ministry to and with the marginalized. 

CCO – Nicaragua, 2017

From November 24-26, 2017 the Nicaragua North District held a Cross Cultural Orientation, with 48 participants from 4 countries in Central America: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. In addition, 12 volunteer missionaries were serving in the CCO. During this time, the youth were able to listen to testimonies of what God is doing in other nations, and also what He is doing in the lives of the missionaries who have decided to be obedient to God’s voice. Many of the participants confirmed their calling and others found out how to keep serving in missions.

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Participants’ testimonies:

Kevin.jpg“Thank you, Global Mission for such an amazing job. This past weekend was exceptional and, without a doubt, God spoke to me and made my heart uncomfortable to leave my comfort zone. Learning about the missionary work that we do as a church trilled me, but knowing about all the need that is still taking place in our world touched my heart. The fact of knowing that there is still so much to do challenges me to be involved in different ways: giving, going, praying and fasting. I want to be Jesus’ hands and feet here on earth, I want to have a missional heart as He does, in which He gave everything through love to those most in need. This CCO helped me to change my perspective of missions, it inspired me to be a part of them and to have a willing heart to be able to serve and without fear say: Here I am, send me.”

– Kevin Rodríguez. El Salvador.

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COM nicaragua 8.jpg“The CCO is a space where the youth can discover and understand God’s calling to their lives concerning missions. It’s a huge blessing to begin to prepare yourself, to have a prelude of how all of our missionary brothers and sisters live, and to listen to their experiences, to be able to see how God is glorified in their lives, and also to learn how to do missions from our own home. I thank God for the opportunity of being able to participate in the CCO and confirm my calling to missions. The more a missionary is willing to let the Holy Spirit to guide him, the more He will bless his work.”

– Edgar Revelo. El Salvador.

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“I’ve been serving as a pastor for the Church of the Nazarene, and I have never understood missions until the day I attended the CCO. Before this I used to give only 10 cordobas for missions, now I’m going to give as much as I can.”

– Pastor Modesto Leal. Nicaragua.

Fily.jpg“It was an intense experience. The trainers had the necessary experience to communicate the message to the youth of our region who have the enthusiasm to serve our God. I’m thankful for the opportunity that the youth have to be involved in the churches. The CCO opens your eyes and heart to understand the calling that we receive from our Heavenly Father, in many ways. One of the sermons impacted me greatly. It was shared by Luz Jimenez. It made me reconsider, react and take up again the calling to missions with greater spiritual and physical strength. The CCO makes unique connections between the youth of our beloved Church of the Nazarene, and also brings us together as brothers and sisters. The CCO makes us share the tools that we are using to fulfill Jesus’ commandment for His Church. The CCO leaves a print in the heart that it will never be forgotten.”

– Filiberto Yat. Guatemala.