I sat there and listened.
The lesson was on hospitality, it was short, to the point and I thought class would end quickly. Instead, a mama to my left raised her hand.
“Swali” my translator said. She didn’t bother with the English translation. I knew the meaning. “Question.”
Questions at the end of class here are common but not amongst the women’s class. I was intrigued – it was a good and simple lesson, I wasn’t sure how there could be questions.
Then she started speaking. Before her question was even translated I understood. Tears filled my eyes, a stone hit my stomach, I silently prayed for grace and wisdom to answer this mama.
You see, her question was about Ephesians 6:9. This mama was weary of doing good and I could not blame her. She is poor, her neighbors are poor, and one neighbor in particular can’t feed their family. Every day, 3 times a day, this neighbor is knocking on her door for food. Was she responsible for her neighbor?
It was all I could do to swallow the lump in my throat. I have always had so much more than I needed. Even when Justin and I lived pay check to pay check barely scraping by we had enough. In small ways I could relate. Because I have lived a life where we had no excess but the American standard of poor doesn’t equate. I have given to my neighbor when I didn’t know if we would make it till our next pay check. But I didn’t have dirt floors. I had electricity. I had running water. I had a closet with more than a few outfits. I had a car (even if it had no a/c in an Alabama summer). I had enough. It is impossible to compare.
And so I looked at my sister in Christ. Her eyes were tired, a bright orange kanga was wrapped around her shoulders and head – to them it was a cold morning and they had walked miles through the rain and mud to church. I looked at the Bible, I looked at her, I looked at my translator – what did I say?
Every woman sitting in that room awaited my response. They knew cold, they knew hunger, and likely they were both as they sat in that classroom.
I drew a breath and began. I started by commending this mama for her love and kindness. I told her she was doing what was right by taking care of her neighbors. I told her it is hard – doing good. That is why this is written. The Apostles, Jesus, they knew we would grow weary of helping one another, especially when our lives are difficult themselves.
The mama nodded her head and then said, “With my children and parents I already feed 10 people. How many times am I responsible for my neighbor?”
My warm blood turned to ice in my veins and chill bumps ran down my arms. I know her children. One daughter in particular is near and dear to mine and my sister’s heart. She was in my sister’s Bible class at a youth camp we helped with. I worship with this family every week. I have been to their home. Honestly, I thought my heart might rip into pieces.
We talked a while more using only scripture.
But what I want to say is this – I have heard this same argument in America 1,000s of times but by people who have more than they need. By people who live in excess. People who have never known real hunger or cold. My blood used to boil, those of you who know me know how this topic angers me, and I would get so tired of telling others that they just need to give as the Bible says. Yet, the arguments would begin – if I give them money they may spend it on alcohol, drugs, etc. If I give they will become dependent. I already gave once – how many times am I to give? Or the one that really made me want to scream – they (other Americans) aren’t poor compared to others in the world.
My heart is beating out of my chest because just writing the arguments makes me angry. Jesus didn’t tell us give only under certain stipulations – He just told us to give. He told us to help. He told us to love. Stop making excuses, America. You have so much – why do you not love your neighbor enough to help?
Don’t take this story and want to help just here, in third world countries, take this story and look at your neighbor. Yes, the one in America.
Give friends. Give until it hurts. Love. Love until your heart feels it might explode from your chest. Then, give and love more.
Here is a woman in extreme poverty who has given until she is weary – what is your excuse?