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, seemed to him 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 laid his own clothing out on the bed, set aside enough for one change, and decided 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 cave-in.
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. 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 with them.
He was acutely aware of the wide chasm between words and actions. He knew that our lives always speak louder and clearer than our words. Maybe that is why Francis of Assisi often said to his monks, “Wherever you go, preach. Use words if necessary.”