You can feel the change in the air. The danger remains, but the great un-sheltering has begun. Possibly within weeks – most likely by mid-summer – we’ll be back together at church worshipping our awesome God.
We’re already talking through the details of how we can reduce risk. But honestly, I’m not worried about LCPC. I know we’ll exercise reasonable caution. More than that, I know we’ll work hard to care for family members and neighbors who are in trouble.
From the very start of the sheltering, however, I’ve been less certain about our response and that of Christians throughout the developed world to the suffering of the very poor. Will we keep the poorest nations of Latin America, Africa and Asia on our radar screen? As economic challenges mount and the status of the world’s poorest people degrades, will we redouble our efforts to lift them up – or at least provide them with lifesaving aid? Or will we give in to compassion fatigue?
It’s now clear that the US is in the early stages of a nasty recession. The unemployment rate is
somewhere north of 15% and rising. The labor participation rate is lower than it has been since 1973. There’s a lot more suffering ahead, but let’s not forget: for the billion or so people who struggle even in ‘good times’ to feed themselves, our painful downturn is mutating into a catastrophic depression.
I have lots of friends in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Some of them have messaged me recently to say they’re jobless… that their neighbors are starving… that violent crime is on the rise… that they’re feeling scared and dejected. That’s the new normal in the barrios La Romana, DR where the lifeline provided by tourism has been completely cut off. Unemployment is skyrocketing. Even a modest rise in COVID cases there would overwhelm the few poorly-resourced public hospitals.
Now multiply that scene and that heartache 10,000 times over. That’s the view from 30,000 feet as you pass over Port Au Prince…Lagos…Damascus…Katmandu. Rising protectionism, disruptions in transportation, breakdowns in supply chains, political instability, hoarding by rich nations, locusts in Africa – all of that and more is already causing rampant inflation in food prices and severe food shortages throughout the developing world. The World Food Program of the United Nations recently warned that up to three dozen countries could experience famines by the end of the year. And that misery will be further compounded in regions where health professionals are scarce and clinics are overrun.
What can we do? What should we do? What’s the Spirit saying to the Church?
The Law of Moses commanded God’s people to “love your neighbor as yourself.” That led to disputes about “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus settled one such dispute by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable seems to indicate that our neighbor is any person in need with whom we cross paths. But that begs the question: What about all the other people in need – the teeming masses of the very poor? Are we also obliged to help them? If so, which ones – and where does it end?
Jesus didn’t answer those questions, at least not directly. Instead on the night before his crucifixion he gave his disciples what he called a new command. “Love one another,” he said. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
What did Jesus mean? He meant that for those who follow him, the answer to every question about who we’re to love and how we’re to love is simply: Do what I did.
And we know that the Lord loved the poor. He loved them so much that he taught them…fed them…healed them…traveled long distances to be with them… recruited many of them to join him. In other words, Jesus wasn’t merely a Good Samaritan. He didn’t limit his outreach to the people he chanced upon as he was conducting his personal business. He kept the poor on his radar screen. He regularly went out of his way to help them.
And I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that he’s calling “affluent Christians” – those like me whose basic needs have always been met by our gracious God – to do the same.
So what can we do right now? Here are 3 simple ideas:
Select a highly-rated charity that operates in the world’s poorest countries and send them a generous gift. (My bias is for Christ-centered ones with proven track records.)
Sign up for LCPC’s outreach to Rosarito, Mexico to take place June 26-July 2. We’ll be helping to build an orphanage. We’ll also help at least one existing orphanage in Tijuana that’s struggling.
Sign up for LCPC’s outreach to the Dominican Republic December 26, 2020-January 4, 2021. We’ll be building a house for a poor family and conducting remedial health clinics in slums and villages on the island’s east side.