Robert Raikes (1736-1811) was a well-to-do Englishman who inherited a newspaper from his father, the Gloucester Journal. Because he was a committed Christian, Raikes wanted to use his resources to do good. One day in 1780, Raikes’ newspaper business took him to an impoverished suburb of Gloucester. He was shocked to see so many children “wretchedly ragged, at play in the street.” The squalor and poverty was below “third-world” standards.
Raikes asked a local woman about the children. “Ah, pay no mind to them,” she answered. “Everyone calls them the white slaves of England.” “Slaves?” asked Robert. “They work 12 hours a day or longer in the mills and sweatshops,” the woman answered. “Most of their parents are in prison or dead.” Robert cringed. He knew that if his father had died when he was little, he could have been one of these poor children. “When do they go to school?” he asked. “School? They don't go to school. They have to work to live,” she answered, “and Sundays are the worst. It's their only day off and they run around like wild animals!”
Raikes was burdened because nothing was being done to help these children, without someone taking up their plight they would fall through the cracks. So he set out to make a difference.
He began by hiring some women to set up schools for them on Sunday. Using the Bible as their textbook, the teachers taught the poorest children of London to read and introduced them to the wisdom of the Bible. Soon about 100 children were attending these classes and enjoying lunch in a safe, clean environment. These “Sunday schools,” as they were soon called, touched the lives of thousands of boys and girls.
Even though the children were taught only one day a week, their behavior began to improve. Now they had something to look forward to after working so hard every day. The policemen of the city told Robert that the children weren't stealing and fighting like before.
Robert waited three years to see if his Sunday schools were a success. Then he printed a story about the new Sunday schools. Soon, about 4,000 new Sunday schools were started in towns all over England. By 1831, Sunday schools in Great Britain reached more than a million children.
Robert even used his printing press to publish reading books, spelling books, Bible study books, and copies of the Scriptures for the Sunday schools. Economist and historian, Adam Smith, author of the classic Wealth of Nations, declared that no plan so promising for improving morals had been devised since the days of the apostles.
The vision that God gave Robert Raikes for the poor was born out shock and action—shock because of the depths of his city’s impoverished kids and action to do something about it.
The heart of Jesus was for the poor. “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matt. 14:14). In Matthew 25, Jesus suggests that His followers show a readiness for the His return by helping the hungry to get food, helping the thirsty to get a drink, helping the homeless to find a home, helping the naked to get clothes, and helping the sick or imprisoned to receive comfort (25:35-36).
As we bear witness that Christ is in our hearts, we honor our compassionate Savior by reaching out with caring hands to the poor. How can we do this? There are hundreds of ways. Pay the light bill for a single mother. Put together a “blessing bag” for a homeless person. Start getting involved in your church's kids activities, and if there isn't one then start it. The possibilities are endless. Pray that God will open your eyes to the poverty around you and that He move you into action to be a blessing. -DM
Dave Branon, “Consider the Poor,” Our Daily Bread, 27 September 2015
Kelvin D. Crow, Christian History (Issue 53, Vol. XVI, No. 1), p. 36.