“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.
He needed help—someone who could speak English—so I came to the rescue, or so I thought. I helped with job application after job application. It wasn’t long before I realized that my “help” wasn’t much help. Without having access to a network of employers, my ability to help Samir find a job was limited.
It was a hot summer day when I took the family for their first bus ride—I was going to train the family to ride the bus. It was sweltering. Sweat dripped down our backs like a faucet that would not shut off. By the time the bus came, we were desperately ready for the air conditioning. The family waited behind me as I made every effort to figure out the bus system. I didn’t know how to get on the bus. I had never ridden it myself before, but I was there to help! I wasn’t much help.
It was about a month after the family’s arrival that I finally figured out what I was good at—taking them out to have fun! After feeling helpless to actually provide any help with finding jobs, riding the bus, or teaching English, I found my niche as the “fun committee.” Several of my friends would caravan in our cars to pick up Samir, his family, and anyone else who wanted to join us from the community of Iraqi refugees. The zoo in Phoenix—middle of summer—was, believe it or not, a wonderful place to go. It was in moments of fun that I found it was simply enough to love the family and be a friend.
Love brings hope to seemingly hopeless situations. Where my skills lacked, the love I had for this family was more than enough to bridge the gap. They don’t need me to fix the situation for them, and I have no ability to rescue them. As we prayed together, we asked God to intervene – and soon the job would come, then the car, and it wasn’t long before the family was thriving.
Once we are at the end of ourselves, that is when God shows up. And once we get to the end of our own abilities, Love makes His grand entrance. When we realize that love is all we really have to give, it may be uncomfortable at first, but it is in this moment where the real relationship begins.
Love is the highest motivation—it is the very place in our hearts from where true, genuine service comes. When you love someone, they can feel it. If you are simply there to “do a good deed,” people receiving your gifts perceive it. Guilt, shame or performance is not sustainable. True love is the only thing that will compel us into life-changing action.
As I write blogs about love being enough— it’s not my job to fix or change people—I, quite frankly, feel very overwhelmed. I feel pensive. What if I don’t know what to say? What if she thinks I’m crazy? What if he doesn’t want to talk to me? What if all this “talk” about love is just revealing in me that I really don’t know how to do it?
Admittedly, I am in way over my head. It’s easy to love children who are trapped in poverty living a thousand miles away, but God has called me to love my neighbor. It’s easy to love people I perceive as a victim, but how do I love people who “have done this to themselves”—the self-destructors, or worse, the perpetrators?
The same way Jesus loved me. He begins with non-judgment. He moves into a posture of protection to create safety for me. He lovingly offers me another way.
So, the next time we see someone living on the streets, a person from a foreign land, an unaccompanied minor, or someone from a different religion, let’s follow the instruction of our Teacher, Jesus, and love. She is broken, but she is also created in the image of God, and by His grace, she can be saved, rescued, restored. If we can figure out how to love, we can offer help from our heart.
To love, first start with prayer. When you come across someone in need, start by saying a prayer. Here’s mine:
“Dear Lord, In Psalm 109, Your word says that you stand at the right hand of the needy. So I pray, first of all, for this man’s physical safety, that You would protect him. Grant him Your peace and set him free. May Your resources be provided for him, so that he may flourish. Give comfort, Lord, to him as his heart may be heavy today because of his circumstances. Give him the faith to know You. May all who are in need today turn to You, and discover that You are there with them, at their right hand. Stir up Your church so that we might feed the hungry and clothe the naked.”
To love, secondly, catch any judgments, prejudices, or condescending thoughts and repent.
Then, ask a question, “What is your name, Sir?” Asking a person his or her name is an offer of dignity and respect. If you continue the conversation, call him by name.
To love, lastly offer a hand, if God has laid it on your heart to do something, do the “something” you can—a bottle of cold water, help with English, or instructions to the light rail. Big or small, any act of kindness given with dignity is the very essence of love.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant, or rude…Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5 & 7). Can I really possess this kind of love? In my own power it’s hopeless, but in Christ, all things are possible!
A Montana native, Heidi Heinrich has spent the last 7 years as a church representative for Food for the Hungry developing relationships with U.S. churches who partner in Asia, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. She loves to travel, hike and take her dog on road trips – but she would say her greatest joy is hanging out with her adult children and enjoying time with good friends.Image courtesy of cobalt 123 / Flickr.com