Last autumn in a church in Botshabelo, South Africa, I stood with a fellow pastor and talked about life in his land. He lives in a desperately poor community. One out of three people there cannot find any work at all. Many others are called “minimally employed,” barely making enough money to survive. Over half the dwellings do not have running water. Many of those homes are small buildings made from corrugated metal and planks (think of storage units behind our houses where we leave lawnmowers and weedeaters). A thousand people a day in that country die of AIDS. A drought has further affected Botshabelo. There is no lawn at the church where we met, but the congregants carefully and lovingly sweep the dirt to keep the property looking as neat as possible.
The minister conversing with me said: “Our situations are so different. What you will return to and what I will remain with are not even remotely similar. And yet, look at our people. Are they not the same as you and the other visitors who have come from your country? Do we not have the same dreams, the same fears, the same loves, the same heartaches? Are we not all the same in God’s eyes?”
It was a moving moment and a deeply honest one. In God’s eyes, we are all equal. You and I, for the most part, simply had the good fortune of being born in a land where personal and professional opportunities are more numerous. But that was a biological luck of the draw. We did not do anything to earn our good fortune, nor did our hosts in that faraway place do anything to deserve their challenges. South Africa is still suffering as it tries to claw out from beneath the mountain of misfortune associated with years of apartheid. And the clawing out process is slow and arduous. But the people are courageous and committed. Likewise, the ones we met while there are lovely and loving. “Are we not all the same in God’s eyes?”
That pastor said to me: “Your presence with us gives us hope.” Why would that be the case? Perhaps it is the case because he knew we are people of Faith – and people of Faith do not forget their sisters and brothers in need once miles have been put between them. Instead people of Faith continue praying, continue telling the story, continue advocating, and continue giving. We continue to use our blessings as resources to bless others. As the late Maurice Boyd used to say, “God loves us into loving.” Out of limitless love, God blesses us so that we can pass those blessings along. The pastor with whom I talked understood that, which is why he said that our presence gave him hope.
That’s one reason my wife and I gave to the Easter Offering at Marble Church this year – because part of it went back to Botshabelo, especially to an orphanage there that is doing Christ-like work among the poorest of the poor. God has blessed us, so we want to share the blessings. There are, of course, numberless ways to practice that principle, both globally as well as in our own backyards – from tutoring children in a school to visiting the elderly in nursing centers, from serving food in a homeless shelter to driving nails in a Habitat house, from listening to someone who is lonely or unloved to praying for someone who is weary or broken. The point is that we are all the same in God’s eyes, all brothers and sisters in the same family, and when anyone in a family has needs then others in the family step forward. “Your presence with us gives us hope.”
Has anyone at any time helped you along the way? Then remember, we are helped to become helpers. Has God at any time blessed you along the way? Then remember, we are blessed to become a blessing. As Bill Easum used to say, “God’s love always comes to us on its way to someone else.” That’s why someone else, if in pain or need, should always be able to look in our eyes and say: “Your presence with us gives us hope.”