The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
Yesterday evening, I was privileged to be part of a gathering of individuals who came together to share their work with the marginalized and the broken. As the panelists who came from different walks of life share their work with street walkers, the destitute, adults with special needs and migrant workers in our midst, these words from Shakespeare, which I read many years ago, crept into my consciousness once move.
Many of these workers are Christians and when asked why they decided to give their life (quite literally) to these causes, their reasons were primarily biblical.
One gentleman working with intellectually disabled adults shared from 1 Corinthians 12:22-23, “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty.” This was the verse that got him started. He shared that when he first started, he really did not know what to expect, and if he would be able to find any volunteers. To his surprise, he actually started with more volunteers than clients; and today, the ratio is 1:1. These volunteers who have been returning week after week to attend to these adults with special needs, asking for nothing in return, inspired and humbled him. He also shared that when he started, he thought he knew how to love; it was later that he realized it was those whom he appeared to be helping that taught him how to love.
Another lady shared her experience working with the homeless and the numerous challenges involved. She noted that not every offer to help is appreciated or accepted and many times, she needed to be patient, waiting for the right time to make the offer, waiting for a change of heart or mind to receive help. She shared that among her group of volunteers, even something as fundamental as getting a homeless person to go for a hair cut can make the news, particularly if the person has been resisting a hair cut for the longest time. For her, she is most encouraged when the homeless begin to introduce other homeless to her and the volunteers, sharing with them insights as to how to help other homeless, where to look for them etc., becoming part of the team of volunteers.
This lady made one comment that stuck with me the entire evening and the entire day today. She was asked, how do we (the workers) know when to stop offering help? She quoted Timothy Keller, who said something to the effect, “Let mercy limit mercy.” She explained that when showing mercy becomes unmerciful, it is time to stop. This is no excuse for us to hold back help, but a truth that requires discernment to appreciate and apply wisely.
There were many more stories shared last evening and each incident, each episode recounted with much joy amidst the pain suffered, moved me. Street walkers reintegrated into society, street walkers going to bible college, migrant workers returning to their homeland as missionaries, migrant workers finding community and acceptance in a local church, intellectually disabled having a safe space to interact and socialize, homeless taken care of and reconciled with their families… The list could go on and on.
Like many around me, I have a heart for the broken, for I too know what being broken means. But that is probably all there is to it. Even though there were quite a few people groups weighing me down, heart and mind, I have not done anything about them. I just think about them from time to time, sometimes uttering a quick word of prayer. And last evening, I was among a room filled with people who not only of the same heart, but whose heads and hands were actively engaged! They truly put me to shame.
These workers and volunteers came from all walks of life, from different churches, belonging to different denominations, espousing different theology; yet, there were a people united, with the heart of Christ, to bring Christ to the people who need Him most, to partner God in restoring the broken into His image (Genesis 1:27 tells us that men are made in the image of God).
The session reminded me once again how self-absorbed I have been, living a comfortable middle-class lifestyle, preoccupied with my feelings, needs and desires, paying lip service to the pain and suffering of others elsewhere and in our backyard. It reminded of my passion and my desire (Matthew 6:33), which I never truly prioritized. Like what one participant shared: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) This has been the journey of our panelists for the evening, and this too can be our journey on this earth. Today a friend said this to me, “Christ is coming, what are we doing about it? How are we living our lives?”
If God is love (1 John 4:8) and we are God’s people, how are we showing love to the people around us? If Christ is the prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6) and we are His disciples, how are we being peacemakers in this divided world?