Another beheading. More Christians raped, murdered and fleeing ISIS in terror. The enemy wants us to feel powerless. Hunker down. Circle the wagons.
But Jesus always calls us to something richer and life-giving, even in the midst of death. After we’ve written a check, after we’ve gathered in our churches and prayed for our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world, after we’ve signed petitions…then what? What can we actually DO in a hands on way?
Jesus shows us his way to respond to needy people in crisis in Matthew 25: We give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty. We take in refugees and strangers. We clothe the naked and visit the sick. We visit those in prison. We get involved with our hearts and our hands. We give our presence as a gift to the least of these.
And Jesus says that, when we do it to the least of these, we are doing it to him.
So if we can’t get over to Iraq or Kurdistan or Turkey we can still do it to him. We can help those in crisis in our own communities and the ultimate recipient is the same: Jesus.
This can be a challenge if you live, like I do, in the “bubble” of American middle-class suburbs. Our church’s Community Impact Team has been trying to figure this out for a while…reaching out to neighbors and our local public elementary school. We’ve wanted to get more personally and relationally involved, but it’s not been a significant part of our church tradition. It was up to us to invent the wheel. I remember sitting in a team meeting a couple of months ago praying seriously stumped prayers, “Lord, how do we do this?”
And he’s given us the vision for the next step and the next. We decided to run a survey asking our church family to vote on what kinds of community service to “the least of these” they might like to do.
We chose four options for our first ever Saturday of Service: teams would go to Daybreak Crisis Pregnancy Center to paint and clean, to the Lutheran welcome home for refugees to clean and host refreshments and games, to the children’s shelter to cook, serve brunch and hang out with the kids, and to collect toiletries, makeup and gently used purses and take our “handbags of hope” to the local women’s shelter.
God supplied leaders for each team. One of our elders suggested we consolidate our efforts and take the stuffed handbags to the crisis pregnancy center. This one small suggestion turned out to be God deeply at work in the details.
Yesterday teams met at the church to pray. My prayer was that by noon we would have great stories to tell of God at work. And we do!
My team began with a table full of handbags.
And two tables full of makeup, toiletries, diapers and baby toiletries.
We topped 25 handbags off with tissue and loaded them up for the trip to Daybreak.
At the crisis pregnancy center we unloaded bags and presented them as a surprise to the director, Linda.
As she received them she began to tear up. She read a copy of the note signed by each of us that we had tucked into every bag:
We hope these small gifts brighten up your day.
As we stuffed this bag we prayed for you…that you would get a glimpse of a God who loves you more than you can imagine.
His Son, Jesus, has turned our sorrows into joys and given us new life and hope.
We pray that you find new life and hope too.
Linda looked at us, wiping her cheeks. “Just three weeks ago we realized we needed to help the women who come to us with hygiene and cosmetics to be able to present themselves well for job interviews. But we didn’t have any idea how to collect what we needed and get it to the women. And now…here you are…an answer to our specific prayers…”
Another team from our church was there painting and cleaning. They overheard Linda calling another worker at home…”I was going to wait until Monday but you have got to hear what has just happened here…”
We unloaded all the handbags of hope into her office and the “baby boutique.”
Loving Jesus in this hands-on way, blessing women in crisis, encouraging a sister in Christ who is pouring her life out on the front lines of a great struggle against darkness and death, bringing smiles of deep joy and encouragement to our paint and cleaning team, being God’s delivery service to bring an answer to prayer–it’s hard to express the joy we felt as we saw God at work on so many levels.
Linda gave us a heart-felt thank you on our way out…our joy was so much deeper than the fun of a football game or a weekend movie. We *were* the movie. God is producing an amazing story and we all have a crucial role to play if we will simply follow Jesus, pray and engage.
How is your community or how are you engaging with “the least of these”?