Loving the Unloved

For I am the LORD who heals you – Exodus 15:26

I read this story and was so touched by this young woman’s love and compassion for others who were experiencing what she once experienced.  When a leprosy patient cried out, “Don’t open my bandage!”, Sakshi revealed her own hands and feet which clearly showed traces of the disease.  She assured the patient the disease was not as result of some sin.  Many people who have leprosy believe that some sin in their lives is the cause.  Sakshi once believed this too.

Sakshi was a teenager when she found out that she had the disease.  As the eldest her younger siblings used to look up to her until she got leprosy.  They abruptly withdrew from her and wanted nothing more to do with her.  Friendless and rejected, Sakshi became depressed and hopelessness drove her to attempted suicide.  Thankfully, her father saved her and encouraged her.  He told her that she was a precious child and urged her to strengthen her heart through the pain and hardship.

“So my papa was becoming so much a comforter to me and he comforted me and even my brother and sister, they used to hate me, and they don’t want to talk with me, they were not in home at that time when I was doing all these things,” Sakshi shared. “So my father, he saw me and he pulled me from there, and he made me understand everything, and after that I became ok.”

After speaking to her father, she gave up trying to end her life but was still experiencing loneliness and it didn’t help that people were blaming her for contracting the disease.  This is similar to what Job himself experienced when he lost his livestock, possessions, servants and children and was covered in painful boils.  He was blamed for what happened to him.  His friends offered him no comfort and told him that he must have committed some evil for all these things to have happened to him.  He was all alone but he clung to his faith in God and God healed him and restored his losses.

Unlike Job, Sakshi had some support but it didn’t stop her from worrying or believing that she had done something to contract the disease.  As time went by, her condition grew worse.  One of her fingers bent in an awkward position and when she experienced terrible pain in one of her legs, the doctors encouraged her to amputate it but she was afraid to do so.  And it was around this time that she met a few Gospel for Asia supported missionaries who encouraged her and prayed for her.  They told her about the about the love of the Healer and Sakshi began to pray in faith and ask Jesus to heal her own body. And her prayer was answered.  Jesus healed her!

After she experienced complete healing, Sakshi decided that she would dedicate her life to serving the Lord and helping others.  She attended Bible college and served in leprosy ministry after graduation.  She made it her mission to reach out to the shunned and the rejected.  “Nobody is there to comfort [the leprosy patients] and to give any kind of encouragement. Nobody wants to love them, hug them or to come near to them to dress them.”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God – 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4

“By seeing them, I am thinking that I will fill the gap,” Sakshi said. “I will give that love, which they are not getting from their grandchildren and daughters… I will become their daughter, I will become their grandchildren, and I will help them and encourage them and I will love them.”  With the love of Christ flowing through her, Sakshi touched the untouchable and despised by doing simple things such as helping them with housework, giving them hugs, washing clothes and combing hair.  She showed them the love of God and how precious they were in His sight.  He has not forgotten them.  God used her testimony to give them hope.  He does not cast people aside because they have leprosy.  When Sakshi cried out to Him in faith, He heard her and answered.  He intervened when she wanted to end her life and through her father, He spoke “words of life into her weary soul”.

January 29 is World Leprosy Day.  You can make a difference in the lives of those who are suffering from this disfiguring disease by helping the Leprosy Ministry to share the love of Christ and the Gospel.  We hope to see more people like Sakshi dedicating their lives to serving Jesus and bringing others to Him.  Be a part of the ministry which reaches out to people who will hear, perhaps for the first time, about a kind and compassionate Savior who is not afraid to touch and hold them.  He loved the unloved.

Show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother – Zechariah 7:9

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Source:  Gospel for Asia

Healing and Hope

I first heard of the Bridge of Hope program when I became a blogger for the Gospel of Asia Ministry.  I have read stories of children whose lives seemed hopeless until they were enrolled in this program where they were given a chance for a better future.  They were provided with daily meals, regular medical check-ups and a quality education so that one day they would be able to get good jobs and provide for themselves and their families.  And most importantly, they learned about Jesus.

One day an illiterate man went to the Bridge of Hope centre with a strange request. Would the staff there send the “medical doctor named Jesus” to help his sick wife? how did this man know that Jesus could heal the sick?  He learned this from a little boy named Nibun, a first-grader.  Nibun listened as his teachers talked about Jesus healing the sick, delivering people from evil spirits and feeding the hungry.  It was Nibun’s father who came with the strange request.  It was Nibun’s mother who was sick.

The family was poor.  They lived in a mud hut and couldn’t afford to go to a hospital.  Most of the doctors were miles away.  It was too long of a trek on a dirt path through the woods, especially for a sick person.  Nibun’s mother was very ill.  His father tried to do everything he could.  He cried out to his gods to help her but she got worse until she became critical.  It was then that Nibun told his father about Jesus, but the man thought that there was a doctor with that name working at the Bridge of Hope centre.

The staff at the centre responded to the father’s desperate request and went with him to his home.  They talked to the family about Jesus and His love, sacrifice and power to heal.  Then, they laid hands on the woman and prayed to God to heal her. And He did.  The news soon spread throughout the small village and several people came to know the Lord that week and the following week more families placed their faith in Jesus.  Families are attending a local church where they are growing in God’s grace and increasing their knowledge of Jesus.

Many lives were changed because of a little boy who learned about Jesus at the Bridge of Hope centre and believed that He could heal his mother.  This program not only brings hope to children like Nibun but it transforms communities.  It brings the light of God’s love and the hope found only in Jesus Christ to many people.

Love Came Down

He left the glory of heaven to come into our world.  He was willing to rearrange His life so that He could come here and live and walk among us. He traded in His majesty for our humanity.  He left His home to come to a place where He had nowhere to lay His head. He left the adoration of the angelic host to come to a world that did not know Him and to His own who did not receive Him.

He left everything to come into a world that was plunged in darkness, filled with sorrow, sickness, hurt, violence and pain. Why?  Why did He come?  Would you come to a place where you would be rejected, unappreciated, opposed and despised?  He did. Would you reach out to people who are always trying to trap you and challenge everything you say or do?  He did.  Would you wash the feet of the man who would betray you and share bread with him?  He did.  Would you forgive the man who denied three times that he knew you?  He did.  What about those who spat on you, mocked you and wanted you dead, would you forgive them?  He did.

Why would Jesus subject Himself to such improprieties?  It’s simple.  Love.  He did it all for love.  Love for the Father and love for us.

Love filled His heart as He walked the streets, touching, healing and ministering to people.  Love filled His heart as He drove the demons out so that the person was in his right mind again.  Love filled His heart as He gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk and the dumb speak.  It was love that filled His heart when He touched the leper instead of just speaking the healing.  His word was just as powerful as His touch but He chose to touch the untouchable.

It was love which prompted Him to forgive the paralyzed man because He saw the man’s true need.  Everyone saw his physical need but Jesus saw his spiritual need and He responded to it.  It was love that made Him encourage the widow of Nain not to weep before He touched her son’s dead body, giving him life again.

It was love that broke down barriers when He offered salvation to the Samaritan woman at the well and healed the daughter of the Greek woman.  Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans (John 4:9). There was animosity between the two groups.  And women were not highly regarded.  In fact, when a Jewish man started off his day with prayer, he thanked God that he was neither a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.  Gentiles were seen as in a very unfavorable light. They were seen as unclean or common (Acts 10:28).  It was unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with them or go to their homes. So, these two women had two strikes against them–their nationalities and their gender.  Yet, to Jesus these things didn’t matter.  He loved them and wanted to offer them what the world couldn’t.

It was love that made Him call the woman with the bleeding problem, “Daughter” and offer her words of encouragement.  He wanted to assure her that her faith had made her well.  And it was love that made Him look up at the despised tax collector up in the tree and invite Himself to his home for food and fellowship.  It was in love that He reached out the unreachable, the unloved, the discarded, the neglected and the undesirables.  His love knew no boundaries, no barriers.  It was freely given but not always received or returned.

It was love for you and me that made Him endure the insults, the whipping and finally the Cross.  He bore the indignity of being nailed to a tree between two thieves, treated like a criminal although He had done nothing wrong.  Yet, He did all of this so that believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life and that the world through Him might be saved.

Love came down to save a perishing world.

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself – John 12:32

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Sources:  John 1, 3; Christian Courier

At the Mountain

Imagine standing at the foot of Mount Sinai and there were thunder and lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain and the sound of the trumpet fills the air.  In fact, the trumpet was so loud that that you tremble.  You come out of the camp to meet with God at the foot of Mount Sinai which is completely in smoke because the Lord descended on it in fire.  The smoke is ascending like the smoke of a furnace and the mountain quakes.  The trumpet blast becomes louder and louder.

How would you feel?  What would be going through your mind?  Would you be terrified to see the Lord come down upon the top of the mountain?  Would you want to break through and gaze at the Lord at the risk of your life or would you stay as far away as possible, watching the manifestation from a safe distance?  This was the predicament of the Israelites when they camped before Mount Sinai.

Three months after the people left the land of Egypt, they entered the Wilderness of Sinai.  The Lord told Moses to tell them to consecrate themselves for two days, then on the third day, He would go down on Mount Sinai in their sight.  They were warned not to go up to the mountain or touch its base or they will be put to death. Boundaries were set around them which they could not step over.  When they hear the trumpet sound long, they were to go to near the mountain.  God explained to Moses why He was doing this.  “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak to you, and believe you forever.”  The people could not break through the barrier set for them to gaze at the Lord.  Only Moses was allowed to speak to God face to face.

The people were terrified when they saw the thunder and lightning, heard the sound of the trumpet and saw the mountain smoking.  They stood afar off, trembling.  They said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”

Moses reassured them, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.”  The people continued to stand afar off while he drew near to where God was.

I don’t know how I would have reacted if I were there but I am thankful that today, we can go near God without fear.  Thanks to Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, we can boldly approach the throne of grace.  Jesus made it possible for us to enjoy a loving relationship the same God who descended on the mountain in the wilderness.

God wants us to seek Him.  He promised, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).  Do we seek Him or do we stand afar, afraid to get too close?  Do we ask others to talk to Him on our behalf instead of talking to Him ourselves?

Today, I encourage you not to just stand at the foot of the mountain.  Climb it.  God has removed the boundaries that would keep you from Him because of His Son. Don’t let fear or sin or anything keep you from climbing up that mountain to meet your Lord.

Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out (Ezekiel 34:11).

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Sources:  Exodus 19, 20:18-20

A Lesson in Humility

They were probably sitting or reclining at the table, wondering who was going to wash their feet.  They looked around, wondering and waiting.  None of them was going to volunteer to do it.  Why should they?  This was beneath them.  Not that long ago they had argued about which one of them was going to be the greatest in the kingdom.  They would never stoop to doing such a menial task as washing twelve pairs of dirty feet.  Surely, they wouldn’t mind washing Jesus’ feet, at least?  No, no one was going to volunteer.

What a shock it must have been for them when they saw their Master get up from the table, take off His outer garment, and tie a towel around His waist, fill a basin with water and then begin to wash their feet.  He didn’t use a different towel to dry their feet, He used the same one that was wrapped around His waist.  They probably looked at each other in astonishment, hardly able to believe that the Son of God was performing such a lowly task.  Did any of them feel embarrassed?

When it came to Peter’s turn, he declared, “Never at any time will you wash my feet!” It was inconceivable to him that his Lord would do something so beneath him and he wanted no part of it.  One can just imagine Jesus looking up at him as He said, “If I do not wash your feet, you will no longer be My disciple.”

That response must have shocked Peter.  Then, he said, “Lord, do not wash only my feet, then! Wash my hands and head, too!” He went from not wanting his feet washed to wanting a bath.

Jesus, by washing their feet was showing them that as His disciples, they ought to be willing to serve one another.  He was teaching them a lesson in humility.  He had told them earlier in His ministry that He didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give His life for many.   As His followers, we ought to swallow our pride and volunteer for the jobs that others don’t want to do.

After Jesus finished washing their feet, got dressed and rejoined them at the table, He explained why He had washed their feet.  “Do you realise what I have just done to you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and you are quite right, for I am your teacher and your Lord. But if I, your teacher and Lord, have washed your feet, you must be ready to wash one another’s feet. I have given you this as an example so that you may do as I have done.”  He was greater than they, yet He humbled Himself and took on the role of a servant.

Not many of us would volunteer for positions that involve hard work and little or no thanks or recognition but it would do us good to remember that whatever we do, we do it for the glory of God who will reward us openly.

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Sources:  John 13:1-17; Mark 10:45

Broke to Blessed

He sat in a corner under the bridge.  It was raining so he huddled against the wall, wrapped in his dingy blankets, trying to keep warm.  He longed for a cup of coffee but he didn’t want to go out into the wet to beg.  From where he sat, he could see the busy street and the heavy traffic.  He watched the people walking to their jobs, schools, slipping into coffee shops or heading down to the subway.    He used to be like that.  He used to be going somewhere.  He didn’t walk though.  He was driven wherever he needed to go.  He used to watch the crowds from the back of a limo, tapping his fingers impatiently as he had to sit in traffic.  While they were out in the cold or rain, he was warm or dry in the limo.  Life treated him very well.  He had it all but then he lost it all…

He started when he saw a van approach and stop.  It sat there for a couple of minutes before the doors opened and two young people emerged.  Slowly, they approached him.  He was not thrilled about this intrusion.  He was never one for socializing.  He only dealt with people when he had to.  His relationships had failed because he was not ready for any commitments and marriage was not on the radar.  He didn’t have any friends—only acquaintances.  He was satisfied with how life was.  It had been lonely at times but he had his millions to keep him comfortable.  Then, he had lost it all through bad investments…

They went under the bridge and stood opposite to where he sat.  The girl smiled at him.  She looked about twenty.  Under the grey hood were wisps of blonde hair.  She was pretty in a simple sort of way.  Not the type he would have been interested in or even considered dating.  Coming closer, she said, “Hi, I am Jenny and this is Mark.  We are with the Hands of Love program.  We are a ministry that provides sandwiches and hot tea to the homeless.”  She reached into the bag she was carrying and took out something wrapped in foil.  Mark had a cup in his hand.  They both held out their hands for him to take what they were offering.

He hesitated.  This seemed a little too good to be true.  He eyed them with suspicion.  He was never one to believe that you get something for nothing.  And he couldn’t believe that people would go to all of this trouble for someone in his situation.  He never lifted a finger to help anyone in need.  He had looked at the homeless with disgust, thinking that they had gotten themselves in that mess and that he wasn’t going to waste his hard earned money on the likes of them.  Little did he know that one day he would be in their shoes.   And here were these two perfect strangers who were offering him something to eat and drink and his old selfish nature was struggling to grasp this reality.  They must want something in return, but what could he possibly give them?  He had nothing.

“What do you want from me?” he demanded, his eyes challenging as he looked at the girl.  Her smile didn’t waver.  She didn’t seem at all put out.  “Nothing,” she assured him.  “I don’t want anything from you.  I am here to show you that you are not alone and that there is a Savior who loves you.”

His expression grew hard.  “Savior who loves me?” he asked.  “Where was He when I lost everything?”  He knew that he wasn’t been fair.  Bad investments got him where he was.  He had had not use for the Bible or Jesus when he was enjoying his millions.  Now that he was broke, he felt an irrational anger toward God.

The girl said to him, “He was there all the time.  It was not His will that you should lose everything and end up here but it is not too late for Him to help you.  All you need to do is trust Him.  I will leave you a Bible and there’s a story that I think you should read.  It’s about the rich young man.”

The rich young man?  His curiosity was piqued.  He wanted to read the story.  “Okay, I will read the story but I would like to have the sandwich and tea now.”  He took the sandwich and tea.  He carefully set the cup down and ripped open the foil.  He hungrily bit into the sandwich.

The girl went over to the van and came back with a small Bible which she set down next to the cup of tea.  “We have to go now,” she said.  “Before we leave, would you like us to pray for you?”

He shook his head.  “No thanks,” was all he managed to say as he devoured the sandwiches.

The young people turned and headed back to the van.  They drove away and he was alone again.

In no time the sandwiches were eaten.  He carefully crunched up the foil and tossed it away.  He wished he had asked them for money.  He was going to be hungry again.  He reached for the cup of tea, savoring the heat against his fingers.  As he sipped the hot liquid, he thought of the two young people, especially the girl, who intruded upon his world.  She was not intimidated by him or discouraged by his rudeness.   Her demeanor had not changed.  Her face was filled with a joy and peace that he had never experienced.  Where did she get it from?  He remembered the Bible she had left and he picked it up.  He saw that she had marked the page where the story of the Rich Young Man was.  Why that story? He wondered.  Why did she pick that particular story?  She couldn’t have known that he was once a rich man could she?

He opened the Bible to Mark 10 and began to read.  When he got to the end of the story, he felt that it was speaking about him.  He had put his millions before God.  His money had become his god.  Then, he lost it all and now he was homeless.   If he had only accepted the invitation to accept Christ, he would not be here.  Was it too late?

“When you seek me, you will find me.  I am always here.”  Those words brought tears to his eyes and he found himself sobbing.

“Lord, forgive me for loving my money more than you.  Forgive me for being selfish and uncaring to others.”  A peace that he never knew existed came over him and he knew that God was there with him.  He was not alone.  His life was about to change again but this time it was for the best.  It had to take becoming broke and losing everything before he would accept the blessings of God.  It was a hard lesson to learn but it paid off.

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The Fires of Faith

Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:21, 22).

 

They meet in secret at night.  They don’t meet in the same place too often.  They don’t tell their families about these meetings.  They draw the curtains to keep the world out. They speak in whispers. Every day they meet, it is a gamble.  At any moment, they could be discovered.  The risk is great.  They live in fear of being arrested, tortured or killed.  Is it worth it?  To the members of the underground churches, it is.  They risk everything for their belief.

 

Life for Christians is terrible in places like North Korea, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Egypt, Iraq and Syria.  It is ironic that it was to Egypt that Joseph fled with Mary and Jesus to escape Herod’s murderous rampage yet today, Christians are under great pressure.  Secret believers like In Syria, Christians had to flee their homes.

 

Those of us who are living in the West, we can worship openly in church buildings.  We don’t have to speak in whispers.  We can sing and pray out loud. We enjoy religious liberty.  Some of us may face opposition from our families.  Jesus warned us of this.  “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and a ‘man’s enemies will be those of his own household’” (Matthew 10:34-36).

 

Just recently, I read a story of a father who forbad his daughter from going to church.  Her family was from an Orthodox background so they had a problem with her wanting to attend a Protestant church.  She resorted to sneaking off and going to church.  There are other stories of men and women persecuted, beaten, ostracized and even murdered by family members because of their faith.

 

It’s hard to believe that Christians persecute other Christians.  However, this is prevalent in Ethiopia.  Christians from the Orthodox churches who leave to find more vibrant churches are pressured to return.  In the days prior to the Reformation, many believers were forced to hide.  Such groups were the Waldensians who were forced underground because they were declared heretics by the Roman Catholic Church.  They rejected the teachings of the church and what they believed to be the idolatry of the church and considered the Papacy as the Antichrist of Rome.

 

Many were driven from their homes and into the mountains when in January 1655, the Duke of Savoy commanded them to attend Mass or sell their lands and go to the upper valleys of their homeland.  It was in the middle of winter.  The Duke didn’t expect them to choose to leave their homes and lands in the lower valleys.  Yet, they did and it was written that the old men, women and the sick “waded through the icy waters, climbed the frozen peaks and at length reached the homes for their impoverished brethren of the Upper Valleys where they were warmly received”  Sadly, the horrors of persecution were about to be unleashed.

 

 

When the Duke realized that his efforts to get the people to conform to Catholicism, he tried another approach.  Under the guise of false reports of uprisings, he sent the troops to the people. It was a ruse to gain them easy access.  Then, on April 24, 1655 at 4am when the people would have been sleeping, the troops were given the command to go and massacre them.  They didn’t just slaughter the people but they looted, raped, tortured and murdered.  Peter Liegé reported the following:

 

 

Little children were torn from the arms of their mothers, clasped by their tiny feet, and their heads dashed against the rocks; or were held between two soldiers and their quivering limbs torn up by main force. Their mangled bodies were then thrown on the highways or fields, to be devoured by beasts. The sick and the aged were burned alive in their dwellings. Some had their hands and arms and legs lopped off, and fire applied to the severed parts to staunch the bleeding and prolong their suffering. Some were flayed alive, some were roasted alive, some disemboweled; or tied to trees in their own orchards, and their hearts cut out. Some were horribly mutilated, and of others the brains were boiled and eaten by these cannibals. Some were fastened down into the furrows of their own fields, and ploughed into the soil as men plough manure into it. Others were buried alive. Fathers were marched to death with the heads of their sons suspended round their necks. Parents were compelled to look on while their children were first outraged [raped], then massacred, before being themselves permitted to die (Wikipedia).

 

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Print illustrating the 1655 massacre in La Torre, from Samuel Moreland’s “History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piemont” published in London in 1658.

 

 

The Piedmont massacre happened during Easter.  In fact, it became known as the Piedmont Easter and it was estimated that about 1,700 Waldensians were slaughtered.  Its brutality aroused the indignation of the European nations and sanctuary was offered to the remaining Waldensians.

 

 

Today, many Christians face the same kind of brutality for their faith.  Women have been attacked, beaten or murdered because they converted to Christianity.  Girls have been brutally raped for their faith or their parents’ faith. According to a report in the New York Times:  “Christians in areas of Egypt that are largely dominated by Muslim militants continue to suffer from violence and humiliation. These believers are under constant threat of their houses and other properties being burned down, or possibly being mugged while walking along the streets. Even church buildings are not spared as they are desecrated and marred with hate graffiti written on the walls.”  Christians are living in fear.  Some of them are secret believers like Femi* and Alim*

 

November 6 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  I encourage you to watch the moving video, Pray With Them from Open Doors and try to imagine what it would be like to live in a country where you have to go underground in order to worship or face prison, persecution, torture or death.

 

Keep the fires of faith burning.  Do not let anyone or anything extinguish them.  Hold fast until our blessed Lord Jesus Christ comes and you receive your crown.