So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10)
The countrywide lockdown has stopped the nation, but it could not stop the migrant labourers, who are being described as ‘footloose workers.’1 This is not the first time when migrant workers are moving from one place to another, but this time it is different. Previously, they moved for better income, future, lifestyle etc. But, this time they are moving to go back to their native places to find rest and peace. There is no doubt that the current journey is much more difficult for them. With limited options of transportation, it is being reported that there are still 26 lakh migrant workers in halfway houses.2
This journey of migrant workers seems never-ending. Heart wrenching images and news of people’s various hardships have been distressing. We read about workers walking for hundreds of kilometres with their feet blisters and stomachs empty in the scorching heat. Our hearts felt sorrow at the story of the 15 year old girl who cycled 1200 km from Gurugram to Bihar with her injured father as a pillion rider, or the pregnant woman who delivered her baby while her home was still 150 kilometers away. Dozens of people have died during their journey home, some of hunger including little children and some in accidents. And I think we all felt a deep sense of helplessness when we saw images of a woman’s lifeless body on a railway platform while her little son was trying to wake her up.
These are a few highlights (actually lowlights) but there are countless similar incidents. When we read such stories, it is easy to criticize the government and charity organizations about how the migrant labourers have been treated. But, the big question is what are we doing? Not only for the migrant labourers but for the poor in general who have been affected negatively by the lockdown and ensuing hardships. How should Christians and churches react in situations such as these? Where are our churches in all these? What is the Biblical way to respond? And I am talking about Bible-believing reformed-leaning Christians and churches. I think here are few things that we as Christians and our churches can do:
1. Repent of our Insensitivity
Sadly, our hearts have become numb and desensitized to the situation of those who are struggling because of over exposure from various media sources. In particular, we have been insensitive to the poor, the marginalized, and the have nots. We overlook their actual trouble as if they were just part of some statistics, and not people made in the image of God. Remember, Proverbs 21:13 says, “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” If we have watched the news callously and have never been moved by and have never wept over the sufferings of these people, we need to evaluate our lives. Such a cold response to suffering reveals that our hearts are too self-absorbed to care about others, and this is sin. Let us pray for our insensitive hearts and ask for forgiveness.
2. Pray for the Migrant Labourers
We should not only repent for not praying for our fellow-countrymen, but we should also proactively pray to God for them. If we have never prayed for the sovereign Lord to intervene on behalf of the ones who are suffering, we must repent. As Christians, we are in the unique position of having access to the throne-room of the only true God of the universe, and we should use this privilege to pray that God would give relief to lakhs of people. We should be encouraged to go to God in prayer because he hears and answers the prayers of his saints. So, even as we thank God for his help in our lives, and pray for our daily needs, let us pray for the central and state governments to take meaningful steps to care for the labourers and the many poor around us. Let us pray that churches and charitable organisations would use their resources to reach out and help them. Let us pray that aid would reach the labourers who have reached their homes but do not have enough for their sustenance. And let us pray that neighbours would be aware and look after poor people around them. In all of this, let us pray that the suffering poor would find rest–including true rest in Jesus.
3. Take Care of Poor Within Our Churches
Praying for those affected by the current situation is good, but we should not stop there. We should think of tangible ways of making a difference to people who are suffering, not only the migrant labourers but the many who are struggling in these unprecedented times. To start with, there would be people in our own churches who have been affected financially by COVID-19. Many people have lost their jobs or they are not being paid like before. Remember the words of 1 John 3:17, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”
While the default mode for most of us would be going into a crisis mode and only think about our own immediate families and its needs, we need to lift our eyes up and look around us. We must provide for our immediate family, but we must also remember that the poor or the ones struggling financially within our church are also part of our spiritual family.
We might not have a lot, but we have enough to share with our brothers and sisters in our church. There will be people who would be struggling with food, house rent, school fee for their children etc. This is the time to show love in our deeds. COVID-19 has given a good opportunity to take care of needy people in our churches and show them brotherly love.
4. Proactively Help People in Other Churches
And we should not limit ourselves to helping the poor within our own local churches. The universal church is the body of Christ, and so we have to take care of other churches as well. If our local church is doing great, Praise the Lord!! But don’t forget Jesus’ words when speaking of the final judgment: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, … Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:35-36, 40). This is why we read later in the New Testament, that churches collected money to help the Christians in Jerusalem who were facing a famine. In fact, the churches of Macedonia gave sacrificially and eagerly, even when in affliction and extreme poverty (2 Cor. 8:1-5). So, let us look for ways in which we can help poor members in other churches.
For example, church leaders can get in touch with leaders of other churches to find out how they can help their poor members. And then they could make packages of essential items such as food, masks and sanitizers, or even money to be distributed among poor families in other churches according to the need. Or two or more churches with limited means could cooperate to help a church which is really struggling. This time of crisis is a good opportunity to build healthy and fruitful relationships between different churches.
5. Help Poor People Around Us
Along with repenting of our callousness and helping fellow believers financially, we should be generous even to those who are outside our faith community. We read repeatedly in the Proverbs that God views our generosity towards the poor as an indication of our hearts. For example, “Whoever despises his neighbour is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor” (14:21), “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honours him” (14:31), “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor“ (22:9). God has blessed us with all that we have, not for us to use everything for ourselves, but also for us to help those around us who are in need. Instead of turning a blind eye to poverty, we can take small steps like giving them some money, buying food, dry rations or even used clothes. Let us be aware of the poor people around us and help them practically so that they can be blessed and have some relief.
Can we Actually Help?
When we think about helping others, people often think they don’t have extra resources which they can give to people in need. However, in most cases, it would be possible to go the extra mile and set aside funds from our monthly budgets for giving away. Therefore, as individuals, we need to be wise in our spending. For example, we can eat out less or limit our orders for take aways, not rush to buy new things, save on electricity bills, consider cheaper cell phone plans, not send our kids to very expensive schools, not get into debts, or use our bikes and cars economically. It would be a good use of our time to volunteer with various charities that are trying to provide help to people affected in such times. Some of these may be small steps, but over time it would actually add up to a lot which could help someone in dire need.
And even churches can have a look at their budgets, cut costs, and set aside funds to give to people in need. This would be a good practice even during normal conditions, but especially during the present crisis. Churches could use money set aside for events planned for the lockdown period to be used to help poor members or poor people in surrounding neighbourhoods. Additionally, churches could encourage members to give towards “benevolence funds,” and then use the resources received wisely to help people in genuine need.
Let us pray that God would help and preserve the migrant labourers and the many poor who are struggling. I have wondered how many people among them actually are believers and have struggled in this season. Let us pray that God would help us to be sensitive and to give generously to the overwhelming need that is around us. May we be people who give cheerfully and trust God to take care of our needs. And in all of this may God be glorified.