Widows, orphans, the poor, refugees… These are people whose lives have taken unexpected turns. They are all suffering in various ways. And if you’ve read the Bible, you know God has a special place in his heart for them. He cares about the downtrodden, the outsider, the stranger, the lonely.
But how can we help these people? How are we supposed to speak into tough situations that we have never experienced?
For me, there are two sides of this. First, there’s the responsibility we find in the Bible to care for vulnerable people. Second, there’s the challenge of communicating God’s love to them.
There is a strand woven through the Bible of God’s care for outsiders. As His people, we’re to be looking out for them and treat them the way we would want to be treated ourselves.
In Deuteronomy, for instance, it says over and over: Remember Egypt.
“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” – Deuteronomy 5:15
Look at the journey of God’s people. God called Abraham to go to a destination that he didn’t know. And you’ve got Israel on the move, displaced, ill-treated, enslaved, in exile… They went through the experience of knowing what it was like to be on the outside.
In the laws that were handed down, they were instructed to take special care of outsiders. Even in very practical things like farming. When you harvested your field, you weren’t to go to the very edges. You were to leave that for the strangers and the impoverished. And you weren’t allowed to go over your field a second time. So if you were harvesting and you missed some bits, or some of it dropped, that was to be left for the people who weren’t as privileged as you.
God’s call to His people has always been a call to mission – to look out for those who aren’t part of us.
Psalm 67 starts with this: “May God be gracious to us and bless us, and make his face shine on us.” That’s great. We like that bit. But it goes on: “…So that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.” And then the last verse says: “May God bless us still so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.”
If God blesses us, the purpose is to make us a blessing to others.
The story of Ruth is a wonderful example. Ruth, the Moabitess, has come back with her mother-in-law, Naomi, destitute and in disgrace. Boaz tells his men to leave extra for her to gather.
Naomi had explained the law – that they leave the sides of the field and they leave whatever’s leftover. Boaz actually went beyond that, saying, “Give extra to this girl. Don’t give her grief even though she’s a foreigner.”
That’s how we’re supposed to look out for and care for those God has entrusted to us.
It’s difficult these days because we’re told a story in the media that we should be afraid. These refugees are going to bring their customs and a variety of dangers and risks. And we buy into that. But we’ve got to balance safety with our duty of care.
I come from Ireland. A huge number of my country people in prior centuries left Ireland and came to America. They settled in America. America as we know it today, has been built on those who have come from all around the world.
You talk to people in America and the first thing they’ll tell you isn’t that their American. It’s that they’re Irish or German or Japanese or Ethiopian… It’s weird. Nobody tells me they’re American. Heritage is very important to people. And America is a nation made up of people from other places.
The challenge to us is: how do we hold out that same welcome to other people and care for those who are in serious trouble?
In Europe, with refugees coming out of the Middle East, the hunger for the Word of God is massive! We have been supplying ministry partners with tens of thousands of Scriptures. And it has forced us to be innovative. For instance, when people are mobile, you have to make sure you’re providing them with Scriptures that are robust enough to endure a journey, yet are light and small enough to transport easily. So we’re not just providing the Word of God. We’re providing the Word of God in a format that’s suitable for the needs of these particular people.
With partners like OneHope, who minister to displaced refugees, we’ve been able to distribute tens of thousands of our Survivors booklet – a resource that speaks to kids, helping them understand what they’re going through and how God can help.
So this rapidly changing situation has opened up new doors of ministry. People who, in the past, we could never have gotten Bibles to, are now coming – and they are hungry for the Word of God. It’s a wonderful opportunity!
Of course, that doesn’t change the pain that they’re going through. It’s all very well for us to have our projects and everything, but how do we speak into that situation? How do we speak into any situation where things are not going the way we would have planned?
I’ve been reading the book of Habukkuk. It starts off with: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” There’s all kinds of wrong and evil going on around here, Lord. What are you going to do about it?
That has to be the cry of the heart of those who find themselves in these difficult situations. While we may never know all the answers as to what God is doing, there are pointers in the book of Habakkuk that give us a solid foundation. The first thing that God has to say to Habukkuk is, “If I was to tell you what’s going on, you would never believe it. I’m going to do something in your day that you would not believe even if you were told.”
In this instance, God was going to be using the Babylonians to fulfill his purposes. They were known as the most ruthless people of the day. Yet God was saying, “I am using them for my purposes. So even though it may look like they’re in control, I am working above these circumstances in a way that you would never understand.”
In the second chapter, God explains that it will eventually become clear – that the revelation will come. Though it lingers, wait for it. It will certainly come and will not delay.
God is saying, “I stand above all of this. Nothing is escaping my attention. None of this is outside my control. I know what I am doing.” When I find myself in a situation that perplexes me, where it just doesn’t make sense, it seems wrong, it seems unjust, God says, “I’ve got this. I know what’s happening. I know what I’m doing.”
There are two responses for us. The first one is at the start of Habukkuk chapter 2. “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts. I will look to see what he will say to me.” It’s a call to be faithful and remain where God has placed us – that’s our first responsibility.
The second is to affirm our trust in God. We find this in the last few verses of Habukkuk. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Hab. 3:17-10, NIV).
This response to God says: I believe You know what You’re doing, that You’re in control, and I am prepared to build my life on it. I believe You know what You’re doing, and there is an eternal purpose and perspective.
I was recently on a call with our South Asia team and was using Joseph’s life to encourage them. One of the examples was this: at the end of Joseph’s life, as he was dying, he said to his brothers, “Don’t leave my bones in Egypt, because God is going to fulfill His promise to His people. When you leave here [not “if” but “when”], take my bones with you.” That was Joseph’s way of saying, “I have a long term perspective. I trust the eternal purposes of God. I know that God is going to do what He has promised.” He was looking way beyond himself, knowing that God’s eternal purposes will prevail.
We will never understand everything about the situations we face. The call is to trust.
Psalm 50 describes for us the kind of worship God is looking for. God says, “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains and the insects of the fields are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”
What strikes me about that is that God is saying, “All of these sacrifices you make, they’re all well and good. But don’t think that I need them.” The one thing that God really wants from his people is their trust. “Are you prepared to acknowledge me as God and trust me?”
Wherever we happen to be and whatever our struggle, whether we’re refugees or we’re struggling with the everyday realities of life… Whether we’re ministering to widows, orphans, and the poor, or facing things we didn’t plan on and don’t understand… The call is for us to trust God.
Are you trusting God today?