A few days ago, my wife and I treated ourselves to supper out. The food at supper was good and it is always great to have time together, especially when it doesn’t end with having to do the dishes and clean up the kitchen. We are both pastors and have been in the area for a long time so most places we go, we run into someone we know.
This particular evening, we ran into a couple we hadn’t seen for a while and so we chatted while we waited for our meals. Very quickly, the conversation broke into the husband and I carrying on one conversation while the two women carried on another one. During my conversation with the husband, he mentioned some work he was doing through his church, helping provide support from some people in the community who needed help.
That was great, I thought–but then the conversation took a bit of a turn as he began making some pointed remarks about the local efforts to settle refugees in our area. Several committees have been formed by church and community groups to settle and support a number of refugees in our area, which I also think is great.
I am pretty sure that the person I was talking to didn’t share this viewpoint–he wasn’t reacting to the presence of the refugees; he wasn’t showing some of the paranoia some people have about refugees from Islamic areas; he wasn’t being bigoted. Rather, he was, I think, upset at his perception that the refugees were getting all the attention and the local needs were being ignored. Listening to him, I got the impression that he felt he was the only one caring for the needs of the local people.
Many people seem to get caught in a dilemma over who we help. There is the “Charity begins at home” faction; the “They are living in camps with nothing” faction; the “We are ignoring the hungry in our own backyard” faction; the “What about the (fill in the blank)” faction, all busy saving their own corner of the world and wondering why no one else is as concerned as they are.
I thought a couple of things about that. First, I know that there are other people involved in helping out with the local needs–as near as I can tell, the concern for refugees hasn’t diminished the support for local needs, at least in our area. Food banks, church benevolent funds, various service groups and organizations are as busy as ever. They are all saying they don’t have enough resources but to be fair, they said that before the refugee crisis as well.
The second thought is more theological or theoretical in nature. If our neighbour is someone who has a need, which seems to me to be the message behind the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.30-37), then we are called to help those with needs wherever they are. It isn’t a matter of local over refugees; hungry local children over the hungry far away; the needs at home over the needs far away–in the end, it is a matter of meeting needs in the name of Jesus Christ.
Some of us will find our calling to the needs close at home. Some will be led to refugees or disaster victims somewhere far away. Some will be called to be organizers of school breakfast programs. Some will become committee chairs for refugee resettlement. Some will be called to give money and support to a variety of these causes.
The problem comes, I think, when we make it a competition. Essentially, the competition begins when I see my ministry as more important than your ministry. And being human, we are much more prone to this kind of competitiveness than we want to admit. If I am involved in something, everyone else should be involved in the same thing, with the same amount of commitment and enthusiasm.
And maybe if we were Jesus, we would have the energy and enthusiasm to be involved in everything everywhere. But we aren’t Jesus. We follow him and in his grace, he is going to use us to meet the needs. He won’t call all of us to the same needs but he does call us to be his agents in helping him meet the needs of the world. It isn’t a competition but a division of labour so that God gets the most out of his people in terms of helping meet the needs. We do our work for God and rejoice that someone else is doing their part.
May the peace of God be with you.