(Lima Cathedral) Lima, Peru Photographer: Micah MacAllen
“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he(Jesus) said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” Luke 22:24-27
A read through the Bible doesn’t just show us the merits and niceties of serving. It shows us that is who God is, and that is who we are called to be. Serving isn’t something that is optional or temporary for the Christian, it is who God has made us to be at our core. This may take different forms in different seasons but is integral to the ordinary Christian life.
One of the more extraordinary sacrificial lives I have read about is the Frenchman Abbe Pierre, who was born, Henri Marie Joseph Groues. He was born into a wealthy family of silk traders. During World War Two He was known for making fake passports, hiding, and rescuing Jews out of the country.
After World War Two he entered politics and became a member of France’s National Assembly. He quit politics officially after he became upset with the level of change he could make. Pierre had a heart for the poor and homeless and he was sick of seeing homeless freeze to death in the cold winters after the war. So, after resigning he founded the Emmaus movement, which was to help homeless find shelter and purpose.
Pierre’s philosophy wasn’t just to provide shelter and hand out money. He gave purposeful tasks to the poor. Each beggar was given responsibility over someone poorer than himself. The organization’s guiding principle was “Serve those worse off than yourself before yourself. Serve the most needy first.”
Abbe Pierre organized teams of “rag pickers” who collected unwanted items for resale. He also led teams to find bottles around the city. This would lead to bigger tasks such a building a warehouse from discarded bricks, and then to create a sorting and processing facility within it.
Phiilip Yancey in his book Grace Notes says “But now the organization was facing a point of crisis. After years of this work, there were no beggars lefts in Paris. “I must find somebody for my beggars to help! Pierre declared. “If I don’t people worse of than my beggars, this movement could turn inward. They’ll become as powerful, rich organization, and the whole spiritual impact will be lost. They’ll have no one to serve.”
Pierre’s answers was to mobilize beggars to build a ward at a hospital in India for leprosy patients from the “untouchable caste.” “No, no, it is you who have saved us,” he told the grateful recipients of his gift in India. “We must serve or we die.”
Abbe Pierre passed away at 94 in 2007, but his organization lives on. Emmaus is now in 37 countries. For years Abbe Pierre was France’s most well known and beloved individual.