Vincent Van Gogh was not always an artist. In fact, he wanted to
be a church pastor and was even 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 to the poor, seemed unfair.
One cold February evening, while he watched the miners trudging
home, he spotted an old man staggering toward him across the
fields, wrapped in a burlap sack for warmth. 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 in the community 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 faithfully serve his
community of poor miners. He believed that if he wanted them to
trust him, he must become one of them. And if they were to learn
of the love of God through him, he must love them enough to share
He was acutely aware of a wide chasm which 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 frequently remind his monks, "Wherever
you go, preach. Use words if necessary."
There are a million ways to say, "I love you," without ever
uttering a word!