There are long stretches of endless grasslands and open plains in the Transkei region of South Africa.  Road trips in this part of the world were made for random reflections and candid conversations.   On one such occasion a group of five of us from the US and South Africa were sharing stories of our efforts and experiences among the endless poor and ever dying in this remarkable country.

We were talking about things like AIDS and orphanage work when someone shared a story about a man she had met in a clothing effort they had done the previous week.   He was looking over a pile of shoes when she decided to see if she could help.  “What size do you wear?” she asked.   Without looking up he merely said, “A poor man has no sizes.”

His response gripped me, poignant and profoundly true at so many levels.   “A poor man has no sizes.”   I suppose it’s another way of saying, “Beggars can’t be choosy.”  Or is it?  How can a person, any person have no size?  As surely as I am a size eight, this man has a size.  No matter how poor or disenfranchised, he has a size.  The poor have sizes if we will but take the time to measure.

How does one get to such a point?  To become so unimportant and non-descript as to think yourself undeserving of a pair of cast off shoes that actually fit.  Poverty has a way of stripping a person of more than the economic means to survive in this world but of their God-given dignity as well.   I’ve seen it in the once proud faces of men standing in food lines in Beirut, Lebanon as well as the homeless in our own downtown area.   “A poor man has no sizes.”

It reminded me that the greater work of any form of benevolence is the preservation or, in many cases, the restoration of a person’s dignity.  To give in such a way that those who receive feel themselves the equal to those who do the giving.  To live and serve in the ever-mindful awareness of, “there but for the grace of God go I.”  That kind of giving and serving insists on knowing a man’s shoe size, anything less would simply miss the mark.

One of the reasons I so love Christmas is because of its inherent benevolence that has a way of taking on a collective form.  Dickens captured it all so well in his classic, A Christmas Carol.  I am struck anew every time I read those words of Jacob Marley when he confronts his old business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge in the opening part of the story.   “’Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.  ‘Mankind was my business, the common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence, were, all my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’”

It’s good to be reminded that mankind is our business, especially the poor.  Our work here at Significant Matters is to do all we can to connect those who want to help with those who want help in order to see lives changed and communities transformed.  If the poor are indeed our business then our first act of service may very well be helping them know their shoe size.

Love with reckless abandon, give with unbridled extravagance and may the upcoming year be one of your best!

Tom Bassford

About Significant Matters

Our mission is to advance sustainable solutions to material poverty through the faith-driven community.

We do this by working with faith-driven individuals, businesses, churches and other organizations to pursue and promote sustainable and transformative solutions for people and communities fighting poverty and seeking a better future. Learn more about what we do on these websites:

Significant Matters  |  EquityVest  |  SaT Catalyst Fund  |  SaTtalks