Hurricane Sandy has devastated parts of the New York and New Jersey seacoast, leaving much death and a tremendous amount of damage in its wake. The great tribulation that many have experienced, and will continue to suffer from, is a reminder, if anything was needed, of the power God has at His disposal. As I write this three months later, the destruction is still causing tremendous consequences: it is only a few days ago that some inhabitants were allowed unrestricted access to their own homes. And such a widespread event inevitably had consequences for some of our members in the area. Although there was no loss of life or injury, quite a few suffered flooding and there was some property damage.
As was perhaps expected, there was a rush of enquiries as to the problems caused by the hurricane, and several reports of damage flowed through the Christadelphian grapevine. This caused several ecclesias to contemplate donating to those who, it was heard, had suffered in the hurricane, which is an admirable response. Those who have much should give willingly to those in need: we only have to think of the Biblical example of the Jerusalem poor fund, woven as it is through the fabric of the account of Paul’s third missionary journey. Time and time again we are reminded of our obligation to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
Paul quotes Psa 112:9 in which the way of the righteous man is set out. “He hath dispersed abroad: he hath given to the poor” (2Cor 9:9). Open-handed generosity, which is the manifestation of the generous spirit, is pleasing to God and beneficial to men. We should also consider the reverse of that coin; which is, that lack of giving proves the unreality of faith. Paul goes on, “For this service you perform not only meets the needs of God’s people, but also produces an outpouring of gratitude to God. And because of the proof which this service of yours brings, many will give glory to God for your loyalty to the gospel of Christ, which you profess, and for your generosity in sharing with them and everyone else” (2Cor 9:13-14, GNB). We see the importance and the significance of a willingness to minister cheerfully.
The ever practically-minded James speaks of this when he refers to the importance of faith proving its reality in works, in this case, aid to the needy. “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” (James 2:14). True faith can, and undoubtedly will, save a man. True faith will evidence itself in works. But faith without works is not such. Phillips’s rendering is again very graphic. “If a fellow man or woman has no clothes to wear and nothing to eat, and one of you say ‘Good luck to you. I hope you’ll keep warm and find enough to eat’ … what on earth is the good of that?” (James 2:15, 16 Philips). The one in need is not helped, and the one who fails to meet the need has no profit before God. That much is sure.
This “Christian” attitude towards those less fortunate is carried over from the Old Testament: the quotation from Ecclesiastes above shows that a very important way to make our spiritual investments is in serving others. When the Israelite served God, he was required to bring offerings from the resources with which he had been blessed. They were used to support the Levites, the poor and the widows. It is interesting that they were told to support the poor, “that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest” (Deut 14:29). This implies that the Lord would not bless them if they failed in this duty. But even aside from the tabernacle or temple service, Israel was urged to look after the poor. Moses made it clear that this was a real way of casting one’s bread upon the waters.
Some practical thoughts — poverty in the world
There are two areas (of the many) that seem worthy of more discussion. As a minute fraction of the world’s population1, we cannot hope to solve the problems of the world, any more than Paul sought to eradicate the poverty of his times. He focused rather on the plight of the brotherhood, and even then he warned against “freeloaders”: “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2Thess 3:10). But this comment is easy to make: but what about the mission field, and any place where the abject poverty many live in causes a heart-felt response that “surely we can do something about this!” And so many in our community see and respond to such situations, with entirely commendable drive and enthusiasm. And by so doing many feel they are directly helping those in need.
But the reality is often different. Small might be the material aid directly brought to those in need, but it has in fact all too often overwhelmed the recipients and morally destroyed them. It has often taken many efforts by others to overcome the problems so caused. The wise counsel consistently given by those with long experience in the Mission field is that our greatest possible contribution is the gift we all share, the true Word of God. The godliness that should flow from such knowledge and understanding is certainly “profitable for the life that now is”. But the hope of the “life that is to come” is paramount. It is perhaps unfortunate in light of this to note that currently more money is being spent on aid efforts in Kenya than the whole of the budget for preaching in East Africa, an area with more current Christadelphians than in North America.2
The consistent advice in such circumstances is to work through or liaise with the various established Christadelphian Bible Missions, whether you are in the USA (CBMA), Canada (CBMC), or elsewhere. Virtually all countries in the world have brethren knowledgeable of the situation, and ready and able to help with the resources appropriate to the need. It might be felt that the existing organizations are not meeting the practical needs in the field: but would it not be wiser to use our funds to help support the needs of our missionaries, who help not only with the practical needs but also the promise of the life to come?
We started this editorial with some effects of hurricane Sandy, and the response it drew. It is admirable that many wanted to help with the problems that happened, but it must be admitted that many times such responses have not been altogether helpful. In this circumstance, as with many others, it must be recommended that the ecclesia of which any Brother or Sister in trouble is a member be consulted. They are the ones with full knowledge of the true situation, and of other offers that might be made. The response of our community to the problems and situations we hear of is generous, sometimes overwhelmingly so. Many recent events have called forth a response over and above that needed by those involved. This has in fact occasionally caused problems with what to do with the excess funds: if money is donated for a specific purpose, what can we do with such money if it is not needed for the purpose. It is hard to say “enough”, and I do not say we should not give generously, but we should check first in most circumstances.
The same advice must be given for those individual events that sometimes strike. We do not need a hurricane, and earthquake, or a raging wildfire to cause problems. House fires, local flooding, uninsured illness all can, and have, caused problems within the brotherhood. Again, the Christadelphian grapevine is a frequent source of information: and we must all be tempted to see what we can do to help directly. “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). But once again, those of the ecclesia with direct knowledge of the situation should perhaps also be consulted for advice: they are the ones with both the best information and the primary responsibility for the welfare of their members. The Jerusalem Church needed help: it asked for help for their members and received it, but not without some urging from Paul.
And, incidentally, although the needs generated by Hurricane Sandy were beyond the resources of the local ecclesia, the needs were met within the existing aid structure of the community, without as far as I know any need for a wider appeal. And such often happens: we can reflect on the words from Proverbs : “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again” (Prov 19:17). We can reflect we all can be subject to the need for help, and recognize that as we help others, we can also expect help, if not in this world, in the world to come.
1. I bemoan the fact the population of the world is growing faster than the number of Christadelphians: it was convenient when the 60,000 Christadelphians could be compared to the 6 billion in the world at 1 in 100,000.
2. Cited from Bro Michael Owen: The Bible Missionary, Sept 2012 p 20.