Gifts Thankfully Received

Thanksgiving has come and gone in Canada and the United States.  Many of us enjoyed delicious turkey dinners with our families and reflected on all that we were thankful for.  We were thankful that we have shelter, jobs, families and friends.  Just recently many people got laid off from their jobs.  Those of us who still have jobs are very thankful especially as the Christmas season is fast approaching.

As Christmas draws near, we think about the gifts we will get for our loved ones and friends and plan our menus.  It’s a fun and a stressful time. We decorate our homes and set aside one evening just to wrap presents to put under the Christmas tree.  We are thankful for the most wonderful time of the year.  We are thankful for God’s greatest Gift to us–His beloved Son, Jesus.

Sadly, it’s during this time of the year when we are reminded that not everyone is as blessed as we are or has much to be thankful for.  Imagine that it’s Christmas time but you are not in the holiday spirit because you are overworked and it’s a constant struggle every day to provide meals for your family. You’re working hard but have nothing to really show for it.  You can’t give your children education or clothes.  This is how life is for many people in South Asia.  Each day is a struggle for them. They don’t live–they just exist.

Imagine how thankful you would be if you were to receive a simple gift that would help you and your family.  Gospel for Asia offers lots of wonderful gifts in their Christmas Gift Catalog.  Gifts like chickens, sewing machines, rickshaws and Bibles are not only a great source of income for people who are living in poverty but they are a means by which the love of Christ can be demonstrated in tangible ways.  Since 2007, the gifts from GFA’s Christmas Gift Catalog have helped over 736,000 impoverished families in South Asia.

I thought of which gift I would be thankful to receive and came up with two.  The pull cart and a bicycle.

With a pull cart I can sell fruits, vegetables, clothing or handcrafted items so that I can provide for my family.  This is a legitimate way for a poor person to make a living.  I would be able to give my child an education and give faithfully to the church.  I can even share the Good News about Jesus with people as they buy the goods  I am selling.  I don’t have to worry about renting a cart.  Having my own cart saves me time and I can take home all of what I earn.  Having my own cart will be a testimony to my neighbors and relatives that God takes care of those who put their faith and trust in Him.

I love to ride.  In Guyana I used to ride a lot.  It was a fun way to get around.  Good exercise too.  If I were living in South Asia, I would love to own a bicycle.  If I received one as a Christmas gift, I would use it to reach more villages and tell them about Jesus.  The Bible talks about how “beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:15).  Imagine how much faster I can share the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things if I had a bicycle!

This Christmas think of the many lives in South Asia that will be changed through the Christmas Gift Catalog.  Think of how thankful you would be to receive one of these gifts.  Take a look at the Catalog here and prayerfully consider each gift.

So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver – 2 Corinthians 9:7

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; Dhal Ni Pol Blog

Compassion in time of Devastation

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble – Psalm 46:1

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Imagine what it would be like to have your home and livelihood destroyed by a natural disaster. This is what happened to the people in the Indian states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh when their homes were destroyed by Cyclone Phailin, one of the biggest natural disasters of 2013.

Jyotiranjan and his family were evacuated to a nearby school building where they waited for Cyclone Phailin to sweep through their village in Odisha.  Jyotiranjan recalls, “That night we did not sleep. The whole night we watched and wondered when the cyclone would be over.  When it stopped at 3 a.m., we went back to our house and found that it was destroyed and everything was lost.”

Officials estimated that the cyclone would cause extensive damage to the homes.  More than 800,000 homes were destroyed.  Jibu and his family lost their home and all of their belongings. How devastating it is to lose your home and all of your possessions.  When I watched news on natural disasters, it is heartbreaking to see the people crying because their homes which held so many precious memories were reduced to rubble.  They had lost a big chunk of their lives and they feel helpless and hopeless.

We can only imagine how Jihu must have felt when he lost his home and how thankful he was when he and his family received a home as part of Gospel for Asia’s Phailin Housing Project. He was moved to tears.  “We are a very poor family.  No one was there to help us when we lost everything during Phailin,” he said.  Even our own relatives did not help us.  But I am so happy that GFA helped me.  I am so grateful to the church.”

Gospel for Asia had provided homes for Jyotiranjan and 140 other people.  “We never expected a house to be rebuilt for us,” he said.  “Really, I am very glad, and I want to express my gratitude to God.”

Kalei lost her small cottage after Cyclone Phailin ravaged her village.  Thanks to the help of Compassion Service teams and those who provide relief, she was able to receive food.  She has since been able to rebuild her life in a new home.  “We were not able to rebuild a house (for ourselves, especially one) made of bricks and cement,” she said.  God, through GFA Compassion Services, blessed her with a new home.

Kalei stands in front of her new home with her daughter and grandson.

In addition to rebuilding homes, Gospel for Asia provided some of the survivors with sewing machines, carpentry tools and tin roof sheets so that they could earn a livelihood since their belongings were washed away.   Having new homes and earning a living has helped many of these families to experience firsthand, God’s love and mercy.  They survived Cyclone Phailin and now they were rebuilding their lives with His help.

I will praise You, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works – Psalm 9:1

It is encouraging to see how God’s people shine like lights in the darkest hours.  Through acts of love and compassion, they bring hope and comfort to many.  Through their actions, they reflect the love of Jesus.

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If you would like to help Gospel for Asia in their work to reconstruct homes for those still in need, click here.  Together we can help to rebuild lives.  Together we can make a difference.

 

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; BBC News

Plead for the Widows

They still hope when they die, that their son probably will come and light their pyre.  A son who breaks your legs, a son who hits you so hard that your skull breaks, a son who is willing to put cow dung in your mouth – and yet you want the same son to come and light your pyre. We need to break that mind-set also, somewhere – Winnie Singh, social activist

I was searching the Internet to see what I could find out about the quality of life for widows in India and was shocked.  After losing their husbands, they are faced with a life of begging and destitution.  Some of them are thrown out by family members.  One widow was beaten by the sons she had raised when she asked them for money.  In-laws refuse to help some widows while others can’t go back home because their parents are too poor to take them back.

Widows face discrimination and are dehumanized.  They are called “it” and in some instances, they are referred to as “randi” which means prostitute in Punjabi.  Some of them marry their brothers-in-law because being man’s property protects them from being raped.

A widow is blamed for her husband’s death.  “You are widowed because you did something wrong in your previous life: that is the view in this predominantly Hindu culture,” explains Dr. Leelavathi Manasseh of the Bible Society. “So, whether a widow is from a rich or poor background, she faces blame, mistreatment and rejection by her family. Many are kicked out of their homes and left to fend for themselves and their children, leaving them in a desperate situation.”  It’s worse when a woman loses her husband to AIDS and she tests positive for HIV.  She is met with even more rejection and ridicule.

In Northern India, there is a place called, “Widow City.”  It is the holy city of Vrindavan.  Widows go there because they believe that if you die there, you would be freed from the cycle of birth and death and obtain moksha (emancipation). It is a place where these women can get away from a life of isolation and the society where they have no place or value.  They are there because they were cast out families who don’t want to pay for them or by in-laws who don’t want them to inherit money or property.  They are ostracised by their villages.  They have lost their income.  They are at the bottom rungs of society and are prevented from remarrying.  In Vrindavan, they pray at the temples and beg. Other widows go there, as pilgrims, intending to dedicate their remaining years to serving the deities Krishna and Radha.

Life for a widow is hard.  When their husbands were alive, they were protected but once they were gone, these poor women felt like orphans because they had no one to take care of them or help them.  They were all alone.  Perhaps this is why in the Bible, orphans and widows were always paired together because they were defenceless, society’s vulnerable.  God wants us to plead for the widows.  Defend their rights to a future filled with hope and dignity.  God made it clear that He is “Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans” (Malachi 3:5).

While society sees widows as a curse, God sees broken, abused, mistreated and unloved women whom He wants to enter into a loving relationship with.  Their families don’t want them, but God wants them to be a part of His family.

Like so many widows, Netramani was cast out and left to fend for herself.  “I was completely alone. … No one would give me work so I had to beg. … I had nothing to eat, nothing to wear. I was completely senseless and didn’t know anything. . .”

Watch Netramani’s heart-wrenching story and imagine either you or someone you know lying there, sick and helpless and no one stops to help.

…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’ – Matthew 25:35-40.  

June 23 is International Widows’ Day, a day when we step into the lives of widows and imagine the desperate places where they find themselves.  Some commit suicide rather than face the shame.  Others turn to prostitution.  Mothers resort to rummaging through the trash in order to feed themselves and their children.  These women don’t deserve to be like this.  You can change this. Through your donations you will make it possible for local pastors to help widows in need, buy them sewing machines, farm animals, or much-needed supplies like winter blankets, water filters and other essentials.  And with your generous gift, these women will have the opportunity to learn about Jesus and His love and compassion for them. To find out more about how you can help, visit http://www.gfa.org/women/widows/

As Christians, we need to demonstrate the love of Christ who reached out to those who were hurting, oppressed and ostracised.  He loved the unloved and valued those whom society deemed worthless. Together let us plead for the widows.  Let us take up their cause.   They have the right to keep their homes, their income and their dignity.  Let us contend with those who mistreat them.  Let us speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.  When we do good to others, we honour God.

A father of the fatherless, a defender of widowsIs God in His holy habitation – Psalm 68:5.

Sources:  Gospel for AsiaTime.com; Women Under Seige; The Laws of Manu; BBC.com; Cross Map; India: Widow City; BBC News