Vincent Van Gogh was not always an artist. In fact, he wanted to be a preacher and was sent to the Belgian mining community of Borinage in 1879. He discovered that the miners there endured deplorable working conditions and poverty-level wages. Their families were malnourished and struggled simply to survive. He felt concerned that the small stipend he received from the church allowed him a moderate life style, which, in contrast, seemed unfair.
One cold February evening, while he watched the miners trudging home, he spotted an old man wrapped in a burlap sack for warmth staggering toward him across the fields. Van Gogh immediately laid his own clothing out on the bed, set aside enough for one change, and determined to give the rest away. He gave the old man a suit of clothes and he gave his overcoat to a pregnant woman whose husband had been killed in a mining accident. He lived on starvation rations and spent his stipend on food for the miners. When children in one family contracted typhoid fever, though feverish himself, he packed up his bed and took it to them.
A prosperous family offered him free room and board. But Van Gogh declined the offer, stating that it was the final temptation he must reject if he was to serve his community. He believed that if he wanted them to trust him, he must become one of them.
He was aware of a wide chasm that can separate words and actions. He knew that people’s lives often speak louder and clearer than their words. Maybe it was that same knowledge that led Francis of Assisi to say, “Wherever you go, preach. Use words if necessary.”
Today, others will be “listening” carefully to our actions, if not our words (read James 1:25).