Just A Crayon

When a crayon is your favorite possession. When a crayon is all that you have. I want to say that it will get better. But sometimes life is just sad.

When I went to Liberia, I was given the privilege of bringing soccer balls to give to schools that didn't have any soccer balls. (Thanks to the Antwerp Soccer Association, Dooley Funeral Home, and Floyd Ramsier for purchasing and sending me with these balls). The way our luggage worked is that I would have two suitcases. One that would be used for water systems and supplies for Hope 2 Liberia and one that I could use for the stuff I would need. I crammed my one suit case with fifteen soccer balls, air pumps, and needles. All my personal items were in my carry-on. I was going to bring soccer balls (footballs to them) to those that didn't have any soccer balls.

Before leaving, I thought giving away the soccer balls would be the best time of the trip. I knew that I was providing water systems that would give water that allows life. I knew that I was teaching lessons that would present the Gospel that would share the Living Water. In contrast to those things, soccer balls seem relatively meaningless. But, for some reason, I thought giving away the soccer balls would be the best thing ever.

And then I walked to the school to give away my first soccer ball. It was a school of around three hundred students. And I walked in. The students were crammed into rooms, receiving an education that will, hopefully, make their lives better.

The principal pulled the oldest class away from their studies for me to present the soccer ball to them. And grief just struck me. I don't know what it was. Maybe it was all of the eager students stuffed into rooms. Maybe it was the fact that these kids loved the soccer ball so much and had so little. Maybe it was the fact that my kids can misplace one of their many balls and forget about it while these kids have absolutely nothing.

When we gave away water systems to the families, I also had the privilege of giving away crayons at the end of the presentation to children. One crayon per kid. A crayon that would be their only toy. A crayon that they would love and cherish. A crayon. Just a crayon. The smiles. The joy. That just a crayon can bring.

I'm not going to repeat myself here (Opened Eyes - A Call To Help The Least of These) except to say that we are so blessed. And we let Calvinism creep in and think that this is just the way God wants this world. Or we let Americanism creep in and say that if they would just work harder they would have a better life. It's so easy for us to say that they need to do something. But if you were there, walking on those crowded streets, looking into those young, hope-filled eyes - if you could see those dirty streets and those old, hopeless eyes - you wouldn't think they need to work harder or they need to do this or that. You would say, "What can I do to help? What can I do to empower you to reach your potential and transform this nation from a place that was on the precipice of hell to what God intends it to be? What can I do to help you attain a better life?"

It's easy to tell people what they should do. It's much more difficult to ask, "What can I do?"

The Mother Keebeh Academy in Monrovia, Liberia.

One of the Classes at The Mother Keebeh Academy.

The Class with their soccer ball.

A little boy who received a crayon
along with a water filtration system
to keep him alive.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith  but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

A picture of our bucket of crayons
taken by Kelly Kuker

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith  apart from your works, and I will show you my faith  by my works. (James 2:14-18 ESV).

A Little Love

A few years back, Steve Stone, the pastor at Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, learned that the lot next to him had been purchased for an Islamic Center.  And what did the Christians in the community do when they heard that an Islamic Center was opening up? Well, they grabbed their picket signs and protested it. 

Unlike the well-intentioned yet misguided Christians who took to protesting the Muslims, Pastor Stone placed a sign out where the lots met that said, "Heartsong Church Welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the Neighborhood."  Stone’s church even invited the Muslims over to the church to share a meal. In a touching moment, the Muslim women brought flowers to give to their Christians hostesses.  

Instead of protesting against the Muslims, Heartsong Church lived out the life of Christ and started the process of reaching the unreached. Because of this approach, relationships are being built, bridges that Jesus can walk over rather than walls that would obscure one's view of Jesus.  

Somewhere along the road to where we are, many churches have become confused and started to think that being filled with slander, wrath, malice, and anger – characteristics of the old self (Colossians 3:8) – is how we should respond to those different than us.  In many circles it has become improper to even dialogue with those that disagree with you because you wouldn't want to appear accepting of them; that might cause people to think that you are like those you disagree with.  We don’t just do this with other religions, we do it with other denominations and even churches within our own brotherhood.  And on a personal level, we do it with other people. You can't spend time with so-and-so or have others see you talking with him or her because they may think you approve of what they are doing. Too bad that Jesus didn't take that advice when he hung out with tax collectors, sinners, and the forgotten ones of society.

But, we like to keep Jesus at a distance. We like to sing along to Carrie Underwood, and say, "Jesus take the wheel." Yet then we see a road that we want to go down - a road that we know that we shouldn't go down without Jesus. We say, "Jesus, I know you'll understand. I'll pick you up on my way back, but I want to go down this road. Could you just wait here for me? I'll be right back." We drop him off at the corner so he can't influence us in our social interactions. We keep our distance from the least of these because if we didn't, it would hurt our reputation.

The story of Heartsong Church, welcoming the Islamic Center, didn’t just end with a church being Jesus in their community, welcoming their unreached neighbors into the neighborhood.  Across the world in Kashmir, the contested and violent religion between India and Pakistan, the story of Heartsong welcoming the Islamic Center was covered on the news. 

Pastor Stone got a call from a group of Muslims from a small town in Kashmir. The Muslim man said that they had been watching CNN when a segment telling the story of Heartsong Church came on. And the action of a church outside of Memphis touched the hearts of Muslims on the other side of the world. One of the community's leaders said to those who were gathered, "God just spoke to us through this man." Another said, "How can we kill these people?" A third man went straight to the local Christian church and proceeded to clean it, inside and out.

Pastor Stone said that he was just trying to love his neighbors, as he says Jesus instructs him to do. And that love is always contagious. Small actions, when linked to Jesus, can instigate extraordinary things. As a result of loving their neighbors in the Memphis area, some Muslims in Kashmir said, "We are now trying to be good neighbors, too. Tell your congregation we do not hate them, we love them, and for the rest of our lives we are going to take care of that little church."

A little church in Kashmir being taken care of by Muslims. This was possible because a church in Tennessee discarded its selfish impulses that define our old selves and put on the new self of Jesus. Instead of just being saved, they decided to live as Jesus would live. Through little acts of faithfulness that we can do when we actually allow the love of Jesus to penetrate every aspect of our lives, our world can be transformed the world, one loving act a time. Let's start loving.

Opened Eyes - A Call To Help The Least of These

I had a conversation the other day with two good, well-intentioned, Christian friends who I could not convince that the needs of the poorest in our community are nothing compared to the needs of the poor in other places around the world.

I remember when we did the Rock 4 Water concert to raise money to provide clean drinking water to Liberians. The people from Hope 2 Liberia had a booth set up. Someone from Antwerp expressed to them, "I just don't get it. Look at all the people around here that need help. Why aren't we helping everybody around here?"

One of my friends told me about a poor person in our community who lives in a rundown house and has to live off of his meager social security check for the month. Imagine fifteen people living in that small, rundown house without a job anywhere in sight, no social security, no running water, and no electricity, then you will see how wealthy even the American poor are. Imagine that one in four of the kids born in that house won't live to the age of five, none of the kids will have an opportunity to reach their full potential because they have no access to education. That's the difference. American poor have needs, but some poor have greater needs.

My friends tried to convince me that it was the world's poorest's choice to live like that. That's a common idea in American because poverty in America is typically a result of the choices that individual has made in their past. It might be a choice hampered with addictions, but it's still a choice. But it's no choice to be born in a poor society, to not have access to clean drinking water, to feel fortunate to have only one meal a day, and to not receive an education. It's no choice to be born under a totally corrupt government. That's not a choice. It would be a choice if, like us, they have access to clean drinking water, yet choose to drink dirty water. We could all go down to the Maumee and drink straight from the river, but we are all blessed to have convenient and safe water from our taps. That's a choice that the least of these around the world don't have.

We deemphasize how blessed we are because of the faithfulness of those who have gone before us. The American "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality is only available because of the great society we live in. The schools in our communities. The families we grew up in. The clean water we have available. The food on the table. The spiritual foundation of our society.  All things we take for granted, yet we barely have anything to do with. Things that aren't there for the poor around the world.

It's not their choice to live like they do. They can't choose to go to rehab or a counselor and get their life straightened. They can't choose to work hard in a fair society to have all of the nice amenities that we take for granted. They can't choose to load up in the car they don't have and travel with the money they don't have to a better place. They dream of the paradise we take for granted and know as normal life.

We are blessed. They may not have a choice, but you do. It's your choice if you will help give them a hand up. Jesus said, "What you do for the least of these you do to me." Are you going to do anything for the least of these?

I have a little exercise for us. This may seem strange but work with me here.

Say these things out loud as if they were true.

There is a little boy who will die if I don't give him clean drinking water.

There is a little girl who will not reach her potential if I don't provide her with an education.

There is a family who will lose a child to hunger if I don't feed them.

If you really believed these statements you just said, would you do something about them?

Now, I'm not asking you to stop loving your neighbor in the town you live in. We have people in our community in need. People we can help. These needs are different and, typically, not as fatal, but God has placed us where we are for a reason. To love our neighbors. But it's not an either/or situation. I am not asking you to stop loving people in our community, but to also love your neighbor just across the ocean. A neighbor you could send money to tomorrow if you wanted. A neighbor who can receive help from organizations that are just a phone call away. We're so blessed that we don't even have to go overseas to help.

When Jesus gave his tough teaching about loving our neighbors, one of the guys asked, "Who is my neighbor?" He didn't ask to know who to love; he asked to get out of loving. What's the bare minimum that I have to do to follow Jesus' teachings? That's not the question we should ask. Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan teaching that our neighbors are anyone who we see in need. A better question is, "What opportunities do I have to be the hands and feet of Jesus?"

William Wilberforce once said, "You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know."

Those of us who have been blessed are blessed to be a blessing. Not to selfishly indulge in our blessings. Our communities suffer from selfishness of all sorts. I suffer from selfishness of all sorts. But God calls each one of us to something greater. The least of these around the world need something greater. Jesus is waiting to be loved.


Below are a few videos that emphasize the same point, albeit in a sarcastic, comedic way.