Matthew 22:37 (ESV)
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
No matter where we live, we will encounter poverty. There will always be people in need as well as individuals who are hurting. All of these people are desperately looking for hope.
What will we do about it? Is our church just a building where we can securely worship God for a couple of hours each week, or is it a beacon that shines like never before? Staying safely within our four church walls is not what we were destined to do.
Let us travel on the other side of this world, to a country renowned for its past racial apartheid, South Africa. Let us meet Senior Pastor John Thomas from King of Kings Baptist Church located in Fish Hoek. He, too, with his staff, had to face those who were hurting and were desperately looking for hope. In 1999 he was made aware through statistics that 44% of the residents of the township of Masiphumelele, a nearby town, were suffering from HIV. What would he and his church do about this?
He couldn't let this rest. Something had to be done about this situation, especially since they were in his very neighborhood!
He expected some of his members to be opposed to even considering helping their neighbors. Going against the grain of Apartheid isn't easy! Would the church be supportive or could this possibly even affect his long term future of his position at the church?
With any God-given task, opposition will always arise, and we all know where it comes from. If we don't give up, God will shine like never before! And shine He did!
Pastor Thomas learned that, "When I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10b, NIV2); and "The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." (1 John 4:4, NIV2).
"For God to move in our lives we have to move with God. We have a major part to play in God's moving. You can't just sit back and say 'Well, God you've made certain promises, now it's your responsibility to fulfil them - Do it God.' Just because God has promised something, doesn't mean that you are freed from doing anything. It's not a case of you sitting back and relaxing while God works. In virtually every situation where God has worked mighty wonders, there has been somebody or people who've done a whole lot in actively cooperating with God." By Pastor John Thomas, p. 1 Moving with God (Online sermon notes)
Now, fourteen years later, that very church is known in the neighborhood as the "caring church". It all started with the creation of the ministry named Living Hope, whose goal was to "seek to reach people for Christ, bringing hope and breaking the despair of poverty and disease." They did so by providing "prevention, care, treatment and support of people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS and other chronic illnesses." Http://www.livinghope.co.za/about/living-hope/
14 years ago many who lived in Masiphumelele had no hope at all for a bright future. Kids as young as six were addicted to alcohol and drugs. By the time they were 11, most kids actually hope to obtain AIDS! Why? So that their suffering would end by the time they were twenty! They literally had nothing to look forward to.
All of this changed when Christians went beyond the four walls of their church and started to show compassion to the downtrodden. Living Hope currently has a budget of 1.2 Million dollars a year and a full-time staff of 185 and several missionaries who have come to serve with Living Hope. Don't take me wrong, it isn't easy to work amidst a dying population, but the hope this team provides is what energizes them. God's Word becomes a reality amidst such realities. Interestingly, the church itself only has a 300,000$ yearly budget and a total staff of 9. Their focus is clear: to make a difference in this world and bring hope to the downtrodden.
The people dying of HIV no longer have to die alone. They can face death without fear. Prevention and counselling happens in multiple Support Groups reaching several thousand and support is given to those facing the harsh facts of their condition. Many are provided with treatment that keeps their disease under control so that they can live a normal life, and hope is truly blossoming among that poor community. This one local church of about 450 people now has an outreach to around 30,000 people per year in their area who face the despair of poverty and disease. The hope of Jesus is brought to these folk.
When we make a difference in this world, people around us notice. Bringing hope makes a huge difference amidst the hopeless. The local government actually asked that this very same church to consider running the government's health infrastructure! Hope is catchy!
"The order of priority that Jesus gave in Matthew 22:37 is clear in that the first and greatest commandment puts God first and others second. The source of our love for people must always emanate from our love for God and never the other way round. The reality is that it is sometimes difficult to love some people. It is easy to have compassion on the abused, downtrodden, poor and hungry, however when some people are abusive, arrogant, selfish or rude it becomes extremely difficult, except to see them through our love for God." By Pastor John Thomas, p. 3 "Chasing Francis" Social responsibility and the Modern Church (Online Pamphlet)
Wherever we live, be it in the most luxurious city in this world or in a well-to-do country, we will always notice hopeless people who are in dire need. In such situations it is so important that we don't dismiss them, but instead, that we approach God to find out what He would like for us to do.
Are your eyes open to those around you?
Dear Lord, Help our eyes be open to those around us. Help us be the ones that make a difference for someone today. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.