“Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31
During the last two months of my one year in Vietnam, I became my battalion’s Civil Affairs Officer; this again was of God. I was able to assist in the helping of those who were unable to help themselves.
One such group was an evangelical church in Phan Thiet, Vietnam, nearby our rear base. The pastor was a persevering, courageous, fearless person who relied entirely on God. In addition to his main church in Phan Thiet, which also had a Christian school attached, he ministered to many more rural churches as well.
To reach those churches he had to travel by a Vespa motorbike over heavily mined roads. He could not rely on mine-clearing equipment; he had none. So, he prayed to God who could protect and then just automatically traversed those roads trusting God for his safety and enabling him to miraculously miss the mines.
I plan to try and relocate his Phan Thiet church, though after 48 years I do not know if I will find anyone familiar; children, parishioners, teachers, someone related to the pastor. I am taking many photos recreated from the slides which I took when they honored us with a special meal, and an awards ceremony for their students and teachers, and from the many visits we made.
Their school had no windows, rough-hewn school desks, primitive pews (benches) in the sparse sanctuary, very little money for teachers, yet loads of poor students. We were able to provide money from my father-pastored church in the U.S. to help.
They were thrilled with our interest in support of their sacrificial ministry as was an orphanage run by Catholic nuns in Phan Thiet. Of course, orphans were too often produced by the relationships of American soldiers with Vietnamese women. Unfortunately, many were not voluntarily adopted by the Vietnamese population, and thus they would have to grow to an independent age at the orphanage.
The nuns would select some of the older teen girls to become helpers in the running of the orphanage and had special uniforms for them. These nuns constantly adapted to the current problems in the society around them which produced orphans, such as the war. Parents of small children were killed in the violence of war, and there was no other family to care for them. The orphanage had more than enough orphans for which to care; any help they could receive was enthusiastically accepted.
In every society there are those in this category with an inability to help themselves. These are they God calls upon you to help, and these are they we should be willing and quick to help. As Jesus says, “The poor you always have with you.” There is never not a need to be met, nor subjects for your care. It is a fact of life; those who truly require help must receive it from you. Sometimes you can be used to teach them how to help themselves, other times you must provide what is necessary to sustain them.
In any case, it is required of you to exercise the mind of Christ. With His mind, you can determine what is genuinely needed. To do for someone what they really can do for themselves is not a good thing and does not bode well for their future success, while doing for them what they are truly unable to is what God actually requires of you.
If, as God says, there are always those who need helping, it is incumbent of every Christian to do his part, else God will not bless you. By his very nature, a Christian is to be about helping the truly needy. It must become a way of life for him; there is never a time when he will not find someone to help. So be up and looking, be up and doing because for this you were called.
You do not need to be in Vietnam, Africa, or South America; even at home there are needs to be met. Not always feeding, many times teaching; not always healing, sometimes consoling. Needs are abundant; solutions are much rarer. Loving your neighbor as yourself is a way Jesus says you can obey all the commandments. So often loving your neighbor is simply helping them cope with life. This is every Christian’s vocation no matter their job or status in life.
“Let your heart be broken for a world in need. Feed the mouths that hunger, soothe the wounds that bleed, give the cup of water and the loaf of bread. Be the hands of Jesus, serving in His stead.”
(1st verse of Bryan Leech’s hymn, “Let Your Heart Be Broken,” 1975)
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