We are living in a world that is hostile to God and His Word. It says that you can be great and do big things with your own strength, and you don’t need God. People value and uphold the ‘strong,’ ‘big,’ and ‘fast.’ The world says that if you are not strong you will be defeated, if you are not big you are insignificant, and if you are not fast you will be left behind. If you want to be successful, then words like ‘weak,’ ‘small,’ or ‘slow’ shouldn’t be in your vocabulary.
I often hear church leaders talking about their big plans, organizing big revival crusades, and implementing big projects to impact their nation. These plans require big budgets and manpower that only a few big churches have available. The desire to be effective for the Lord in a big way is a great thing, but the problem is they seem to think the way the world thinks. They look down on small actions and are in danger of believing a lie that says, “Bigger is better.”
Put a face to that label.
That is the challenge I face today. I know “who” to help, that one is rather easy: the vulnerable. But I sometimes struggle to really know who to help. Let me explain.
The Bible takes no short cuts in challenging Christians to follow in the footsteps of God and love the vulnerable. Take Zechariah 7:9-10 for example:
“This is what the Lord Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.”
It’s pretty self-explanatory by reading scripture that a care for the downtrodden, poor, vulnerable, marginalized, etc. is God’s heart and thus should be ours as well. And it is rather clear that this focus is not a choice if we follow Jesus. (1 Jn 3:16-18) In fact, it is the pure form of the religion we follow. (James 1:27)
Monique and Ricky drove their battered Dodge minivan from the western edge of Phoenix to our church in the Southeast Valley for a free fence.
They saw it on Craigslist: “Free chain link fence. You take it down and haul it away.” So they traveled thirty-three miles in a van that looked like it could hardly go three more.
We were prepping for a construction project that would begin the next day and needed to get rid of the perimeter fence of our playground. So we put the word out.
Monique and Ricky were hardly living the high life. That was easy enough to spot from their clean but worn clothes and the aging car they drove. What wasn’t nearly so evident was how very, very ill they were. While serving in the second Gulf War as a teenager, Monique had been exposed to depleted uranium. The poison worked its way inside her and wreaked havoc on her body.
“Heidi, please come,” Samir said in the best, broken English he could muster. “We need your help. I want to fill out a job application. I need a job. But I can’t understand this form.” Since English is something I am good at, I jumped in my car and drove thirty-five miles to downtown Phoenix from my Gilbert home.
Samir fled his home in Iraq and came to the United States with his wife and two small children as a refugee. His life was in danger in his homeland, but coming to the U.S. for a fresh start had its own rude awakening. English is his second language, and he speaks very good English for someone living in Iraq where his language skills gave him opportunities to help with translation during the war. But when he arrived in the U.S., he found it wasn’t good enough for everyday life here in America.
I walked into the auditorium at the end of the “youth fellowship time.” In other words, I walked in on 15 teenagers somehow managing to simultaneously text on their smartphones, run laps, flirt and eat junk food. I might have mistaken it for any other youth group in town, except that I couldn’t decipher a single word they were saying (since they were speaking Nepalese) and there were one too many saris in the room.
In fact, 14 of these 15 kids are children of refugees. This is the youth group of the Himalayan Community Mission Church in Phoenix, Arizona.
I was there to meet the pastor…to find out just one thing: What does effective ministry to refugees look like?
In April, a cyclone devastated a small village along the coastline in northern Myanmar. Every family in the village – 65 families in all –suffered damage to their homes. Their roofs were gone. The school as well was damaged and the local church was completely destroyed.
Despite the hardship, the local church members sprang into action. They had learned about showing God’s love to their neighbors through the TCT program. They helped their neighbors by sharing what they had and working to rebuild homes.
The loving action of the local Christians astonished non-believers in the area and served to establish a good relationship with them. With the houses completed, the believers prayed that God would also provide for them to rebuild the church. The church started collecting donations from families and other area churches. Now, by the grace of God, the village is restored and the believers have already finished the church building’s foundation.
Luke 3:11 says: “And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
2 Thess. 3:10 says: “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you: that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
So which is it? Should I give my tunic away or should I make them work to buy their own tunic? Do I help by giving or do I help by restraining to give? Who do I believe Dr. Luke or the Apostle Paul?
The Bible seems to indicate that when helping those in need there aren’t any cut and dry answers. It seems, sometimes we are told to help by supplying physical need, and other times we are told to help by letting the person help themselves first. It’s certainly confusing to me and I wonder if it has been confusing for others too?
As the school year starts, now is a great time to look for ways to partner with your local school. Separation of church and state notwithstanding, most schools have needs, know of needy families, and will accept help from anywhere they can get it. Step one is to meet with the Principal and ask what their needs are. Step two is prayer. If you’re in Arizona, I recommend connecting with Bridge Builders International, which has an amazing program of prayer for schools.
Our TCT partner churches in Asia have been inspiring me with the way they are meeting needs for the schools in their communities. While the needs may be different, the heart of service is exactly what I hope we can demonstrate where we live.
Several years ago I was involved in a ministry at a local church that gathered food and distributed it to various ministries in our city. These ministries sought to serve the low-income families of the community. I remember the first Sunday that congregants were to bring food for the outreach… it was amazing! We had over 2,000 items donated, everything from canned food to paper towels and baby items. The ministry launch was a success! We decided to make this outreach a monthly opportunity for the church. For three months the results were great, lots of food was collected; many generous hearts had been moved.
However, after about 6 to 9 months the numbers started to decrease. The amount of food sitting in the church hallway after the monthly outreach Sunday dwindled. Soon only a few grocery bags and a small pile of cans were given. What had happened? I don’t think it was that the generosity of the people departed, or that they didn’t care, so what was the problem? Why did the ministry become a forgotten afterthought? Continue reading