A few months ago, HOPE staff member Chris Horst had the opportunity to preach a sermon to his Lancaster City church. The following excerpt is Part 1 of a three-part series on The Challenge of Helping.
The word of God from Matthew 25:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
This is a wonderfully convicting passage. With the immense problems of poverty, famine, and war around us, we, as the Church are faced with a challenge. It’s a challenge of epic proportions—how can we respond? How can we come alongside the poor as Christ came into this world? How can we, as the Church, embrace the mandate we have each been given to love “the least of these”? Are there times when our attempts to help the poor might have actually not helped? That’s what we are going to unpack.
We are all here because we care about the poor and we care about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And we are here because we want to ask the tough questions and to find our place, our role, in the great cosmic story that is unfolding around us.
WE LIVE IN A HURTING WORLD
We live in a hurting world. The world we live in is broken and in desperate need of the Church to respond. The statistics are numbing. Poverty has run rampant not just in remote places like Africa but also right here in our own country.
The Bible has a lot to say about poverty and about the Church’s role in responding. There are over 2,000 verses that talk about how we should respond. Matthew 25, today’s scripture, is a familiar and convicting passage. In Proverbs we see examples throughout of that same connection between our love for God and our love for the poor. Chapter 14 verse 31 reads “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” Love for the poor should be a natural response of our love for God.
Last month, Newsweek featured an article entitled “Africa’s Second Holocaust,” which outlined the absolutely horrendous atrocities that have happened in Congo. During the past 10 years in Congo, over 5 million people have died as a result of the ongoing civil war. 5 million people. That is more people than the entire state of Colorado. Imagine if every man, woman and child in Colorado died over 10 years. Corruption has ravaged the society and infrastructure; famine and war have driven up food costs. The average life expectancy there is less than 50 years. And less than 1 out of every 500 Congolese individuals are actually able to open a bank account.
Congo is just one country, and there are similar statistics and tragedies happening around the world. We can talk about the statistics all day long, but I feel that stories of individuals resonate more deeply and give us a personal picture of what these statistics actually mean. I’d like to share the story of a young Congolese girl named Vumi. It’s a graphic story that makes me hurt every time I read it. But it’s a story that needs to be told. This story, which was reported by the BBC, is one Vumi asked to be shared.
“As we walked forward to meet the tiny 16-year-old, she doubled over, clutching her stomach and trying to cover her feet with the faded cloth she had wrapped around her body. She averted her eyes. Urine covered her feet. Vumi suffers from incontinence, and cannot sit down because of the pain, the result of a horrific rape incident last October.
‘The attack happened at night, and we were forced to flee into the bush,’ she said. ‘Four men took me. They all raped me. At that time I was nine months pregnant. They gang-raped me and pushed sticks up inside of me – that’s when my baby died – they said it was better than killing me.’ The men then stole her few belongings and her community, unable to live with the smell, shunned her. Now she hopes only to be healed.”How are we going to respond? Sadly, tragedies like what happened to Vumi are happening not only in Congo but also right here in our own city. All around us we are surrounded by individuals who are hurting deeply.
Last summer, with a group of folks from my home church, I was involved in a clean-up project for a woman who lives in a house just a few blocks from here. She was elderly, had several physical impairments and was living in what should have been condemned. The house had been flooded a few years ago, and she was unable to clean up the mess from the storm. There was mud throughout the house and nearly all her furniture was ruined. The boiler broke as a result of the flood, so she actually heated her bedroom with a tiny space heater. She worked long hours in the kitchen of a neighborhood bar, had no family in the area, and was essentially decaying in her home.
Right here, in our own city, a woman lived in these desperate conditions. She was completely disconnected from the world. So the problems of poverty aren’t just happening across the ocean. They’re all around us. And the world needs the Church to respond. The world is begging for us to band together and work towards finding solutions to these problems. To bring healing to the sick, food to the hungry, and housing to the homeless.
Just last week I was sent an article that was written by a Matthew Parris, an atheistic columnist from London, in a prominent British newspaper:
“…travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God. Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”
The world needs the Church to respond. We are faced with enormous challenges in our world and we’ve been left with a question: how are we going to respond? Unfortunately, in our earnestness, we have seen a lot of our efforts not only fall short in securing positive long-term change but actually cause more harm than good. I would like to suggest that good intentions are no longer enough. Jesus’ mandates in Matthew 25 don’t command us to just do what we can. They command us to truly help. And the challenge of helping is more complex and more challenging than perhaps we often assume it is.
Read “The Challenge of Helping – Part 2” of this 3-part series.