Effective Without Words

Help me to love with open arms, like You do
A love that erases all the lines, and sees the truth
Oh that when they look in my eyes, they would see You
Even in just a smile; they would feel the Father’s love*

These lyrics became my prayer on a recent humanitarian outreach trip to the Middle East. My inability to quickly connect with people felt like a weakness, a flaw that rendered me ineffective in ministry outreach.

But God encouraged me with the story of the Good Samaritan. He called me to join the outreach team to do good for people in a culture different than my own. The Samaritan didn’t preach, teach, and possibly didn’t talk much to the injured man he helped. His actions, not words, made all the difference. His example is one Jesus would have us follow. Be kind to your neighbor. This is the reason I traveled to a place I never thought I would go.

God also revealed to me that the commandments given to Israel during their desert wanderings were intended to set them apart. Their lifestyle was to be a testimony to the nations around them.

From a Bible in a Year devotional:

God intended them to be a highly visible example both as to the nature of the God they worshipped, and as to the quality of social justice embodied in their community. In other words, following the example of the Good Samaritan has an evangelistic consequence.

When we live the life God asks of us, people take notice. Our lifestyle is a testimony. How we behave, how we love, how we show kindness matter immensely.

As I read God’s word at the conclusion of my trip, I sensed His love for me. He revealed that nothing I do in the name of Jesus is without effect. Although I recognize I need to do a better job of using my words to share Jesus, God affirmed through His word that my time in the Middle East was in fact effective.

*Chorus of “For the One” by Brian Johnson and Jenn Johnson

Scooping Seeds and Sealing Envelopes

Seed packing event

Volunteers pack vegetable seeds

This weekend, I experienced an example of people coming together for the good of others. Back in December, a church in Texas took up a Christmas offering, and they chose to spend it eight months later on a vegetable seed and school supply packing event with GAiN. This church not only offered the event to their own congregation, but they opened spots for community and church leaders, and others who have a desire to help people living in difficult places around the world.

Seed packing event

Seed teams work together

People of all ages—about 250 in all—poured through the church doors on a Saturday morning. Each received a task assignment. Families with small children were directed toward the school supply packing area. Other young children helped place instruction stickers on seed packet envelopes. Older children and adults scooped seeds, sealed envelopes, or banded packets into stacks of ten and boxed them for shipping.

After a short orientation, the work began. Chatter abounded as seed scoopers acquainted themselves with their envelope sealers. Chants echoed as good-natured taunting swapped between onion and collard green packers. Who would finish packing their seeds first? Runners, including myself, ensured seed bowls remained full and envelope stacks stayed tall. As plastic shoe boxes filled up with sealed seed packets, a runner whisked them to the boxing area. This whirlwind of activity continued for about 2.5 hours.

Seed packing event

Scooping okra seeds

When the last seed was poured and the last box taped, a total of 36,000 seed packs and more than 1300 school supply kits were boxed up and ready to ship to countries in Africa or the Middle East.

What happens next? When seeds or school supplies are requested by a GAiN field ministry partner, GAiN staff will load these items along with other aid onto a shipping container and send it on its way. (That description was an over-simplification. A lot of logistics work happens between here and the destination!)

Once received, GAiN partners will have seeds and school supplies to give to people who can’t afford to eat, much less send their children to school. These important supplies make a way for GAiN field partners to show the kindness of Jesus to hurting people. The seeds offer an opportunity for families to work a garden, feed their family nutritious vegetables, and even provide some income through the sale of excess produce.

As communities cultivate the seeds from this one event, the total yield could be as much as 360,000 pounds of okra, onions, and collard greens.

Seed packing event

Okra seeds ready for shipment

It’s events like these that paint a picture of the universal church. On a Saturday morning in August, a lot of people sacrificed their time to be part of something that will make a huge difference to someone they will never meet. This is love in action. I John 4 says, “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.” God’s love becomes evident when we give ourselves out of the love God gives us. And great things happen when we give together!

Camp Resident Uses Skills to Care for Neighbors

The people of South Sudan find themselves caught in the middle of a war that is tearing apart this new nation. Decades of civil war with Sudan, and now internal power struggles, have taken their toll. As a result of the violence, a staggering 1.55 million people fled their homes, displaced in their own country. More than 600,000 sought refuge in neighboring countries.1 Families desperately seek new homes, new ways to work, and a way to start over with nothing. Food, clothes, medical care, and other basic necessities elude those trying to survive.

Mangateen Refugee Camp-16One camp houses thousands of displaced families who came from the northern part of South Sudan where intense fighting and civilian deaths prompted the exodus. Tents measuring approximately 25×35 ft. fill the camp area. Multiple families crowd into these shelters, amidst their meager belongings, and call this their new home.

Unsanitary conditions in the camp promote the spread of communicable disease. Unfiltered drinking water trucked in from the Nile introduces contaminates that cause cholera and diarrhea. Human waste from overflowing latrines and open defecation washes through the camp when it rains. With too few mosquito nets, malaria runs rampant. Constant illness increases the suffering of these people.

Jengo**, displaced from his home, lives in this camp with his family. He saw how contaminated water, uncontrolled waste, and lack of protection from infected mosquitoes created preventable illnesses. Instead of fixating on his own suffering, Jengo took action, using his medical skills to run the camp clinic – with very few resources.

Mangateen Refugee Camp-121Jengo described the frustration he feels when a patient lies before him that he cannot help because medicines or supplies are unavailable. Jengo says, “It is very straining if you know what to do, and you don’t have the right material.” Through GAiN and their partners in South Sudan, the camp clinic received medications and supplies for treating people who flock to the clinic.

The antibiotics included in one shipment of donated medications treated at least 200 patients in the camp. Because of the great need, the clinic quickly ran out of supply. Jengo desires to foster preventative habits. Therefore, his staff instructs people to wash their hands so that cholera and diarrhea occur less frequently, reducing cases for which treatment is required. With fewer preventable illnesses, available medications can be used for more severe diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, typhoid, and TB. Because of help from GAiN and Jengo’s dedication to his new neighbors, the internally displaced people in South Sudan have a chance to be healthier and happier.

Manga Ten Refugee Camp-4

** A pseudonym

* At GAiN, I tell stories of life change, letting people know how their gifts and donations make a difference in people’s lives. Originally, photos and portions of this post were used in one such report at GAiN.

Learning to Bless

It’s likely people say I bless them in one way or another, and maybe this is a frequent occurrence. While I’m grateful that I am a blessing to people, I realize I generally don’t go out of my way to bless, especially people I don’t know. Starting up conversation isn’t my forte. I know people who can befriend a stranger within the first five minutes of meeting them. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for me. Apparently, I need some schooling. Being intentional about blessing others is part of God’s lesson plan for me.

IMG_0186My family recently vacationed in beautiful San Diego, California. As we walked down the sidewalk near the harbor, I noticed two men sitting on separate benches, each with their possessions stacked beside them. In front of them sat a plastic cup for passers by to drop in money. We didn’t stop. In fact, after mentioning it to my husband, he hadn’t even noticed them. (That comment isn’t meant to put him down. He’s very task oriented, and we were heading to a specific location, and that’s where his focus was. There’s no looking around at people and things when we have somewhere to be. Ha Ha!) It made me wonder that those guys must feel invisible.

IMG_0179A while back, we decided to purchase some McDonald’s gift cards to have on hand for such occasions. We remembered to bring one with us on that day. As we walked back past that spot a couple hours later, one of the guys still sat on the bench. As we approached, I noticed he picked up the cup in front of him and dumped out a few coins that had been dropped in. I envisioned someone walking by, dropping in the coins and continuing to walk. My husband had the gift card in hand. We stopped, spoke briefly to him and handed him the card. My husband told him we’d be praying for him. I hope that action was a small blessing to him. We didn’t just drop the card in the cup and keep walking, but we offered him dignity by placing the card in his hand and speaking directly to him. I also know we could have done better by sitting down with him for a few minutes and having a conversation, or going and grabbing lunch for us and him and eating together. Intentional blessing is a learning process.

IMG_0173Through my work with Cru and GAIN, I believe I will have opportunities to bless people intentionally. Of course, the work I do as a writer for GAIN is an indirect way of blessing suffering people who live in some of the hardest places in the world. Closer to home, I pray that I am able to be more relational with people around me, blessing them with actions, words, and maybe even by challenging them to grow in their relationship with Christ.

A wise friend and pastor explained in a recent sermon that focusing on small changes eventually leads to big changes. He challenged our congregation to think of one word and a corresponding verse to focus on over the next year. My word is BLESS. What is yours?

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. I Peter 4:10