As I Was Saying

Who Is My Neighbor?

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

Against the backdrop of glittering white twinkle lights strung along the living room walls and quiet piano music played by a pianist I’d hired the day before, the painful story spilled forth. It was shared by a beautiful woman with long brown hair and by her gentle husband; anguish was evident in every hesitant word they spoke.

“There was noise everywhere. As the bombs fell near our apartment, we crawled under the stairwell, praying to God to save our lives.” The couple trembled, reliving the trauma of what they had endured not long before in Syria.

“The city we loved was under attack, and there was so much violence. It was absolutely terrible,” the husband continued quietly. “Our lives were saved, but it has been a very hard journey.” He paused a moment. “We are so grateful to be safe in Canada.”

Just the day before, I’d been consumed with the problem of finding a suitable replacement musician on barely any notice for a small “music in the living room” fundraising party my friend and I were throwing to benefit this refugee couple. Now, in the midst of the party, their words showed me what was really important—and put into sharp perspective the intense suffering of my neighbors in Syria and around the world.

The couple’s story touched me deeply, and I tucked their words into my heart until about a year later when I found myself in the fellowship room at my church on a quiet Saturday morning attending a workshop on refugee awareness. Wintry sunlight peered through the church’s frosty windows as the tantalizing coffee smell of church fellowship rooms everywhere wafted through the room.

As I listened to the presentation, pictures flashed across a screen of refugees fleeing their homelands while clutching the hands of small children and elderly grandmothers alike, walking long, dusty roads in search of safety and freedom.

But it was the numbers given in the presentation that most pierced my heart. “By the end of 2017, 68.5 million individuals have been forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations,” the presenter said, quoting from the most recent statistics of the  UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

And it hit me: that number is comprised of 68.5 million individuals who not only cry out for safety and freedom but who have hopes and dreams and are ever so precious to God. Just like the couple from Syria. Just like me.

However, with that realization came deep panic. The numbers are so vast: how could even the smallest dent be made? It is overwhelming to consider the amount of suffering all across the world, not just by refugees but also by the millions of orphans who desperately need adoptive homes and by countless people who don’t live in physical poverty but who live isolated lives filled with loneliness. 

Throughout the world are suffering people akin to the injured man encountered by the Good Samaritan. As Christians, our calling is to live lives focused on loving God and our neighbors. But where do we even begin?

To find an answer, I looked closely at the parable of the Good Samaritan, told by Jesus in answer to a similar question: Who is my neighbor?

As the story goes, a severely injured man was left on the side of the road. The religious people you’d expect to help walked right on by. It was the person you wouldn’t expect to help—a Samaritan in a time where Samaritans and Jewish people didn’t get along—who helped, going to quite a bit of trouble to provide for the injured man’s needs. 

Wondering what motivated him to help, I looked closely at the text.  “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him” (Luke 10:33). I think the key words here are “as he traveled” and “saw.” The Samaritan was traveling down a road, just as we travel through the days God generously gifts us. He saw the injured man because his eyes and heart were open. Thus, he reacted in a way that provided deliberate help and love. 

So too, as we go through our days, there is a choice before us. We cannot help every person in this world. But as we travel the path where God leads us, we can choose to keep our eyes and hearts open, to be aware of those around us who are in emotional, physical, or spiritual need.

As a person who lives with significant disabilities and a medical condition characterized by severe pain, I know what it is to be the person helped by the Good Samaritan. I’ve been the recipient of much help, including the meals a team in our church brought my family every single week for two years after I lost the ability to walk. Those meals changed my life and forever taught me what love is. 

But far from disabilities always relegating me to the role of the one helped, I believe they increase my calling to proceeding forward with my eyes and heart open to those around me.  Because I know what it is to be in need and hurt and struggle, I can more easily empathize and see those around me who are also in need.

You may not have disabilities like me. But you have certainly faced challenges, pain, loss, or struggle in your life. It’s part of the human condition. And this struggle can be the tool God uses to open your eyes to the neighbors in need you encounter as you travel along your life’s path—and that enables you to respond with deepest love.

About the Author

Jenna C. Hoff is a freelance writer and editor in Edmonton, Alta. She is a member of Inglewood Christian Reformed Church.

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