We’ve read a lot in the past couple of weeks about God’s words on Hospitality and how that means Loving Strangers. We examined how the Bible defines strangers, and read biblical examples of loving strangers. Now I would like to offer some practical ideas on what loving strangers can look like today.

I do not claim to be an expert on loving strangers — I am very much a work in progress and have so much to learn. When listening to a presentation on this very topic recently, a statement was made that deeply resonated with me. “I don’t think God requires us to have all of the answers to step closer”. We don’t need all of the answers to take that first step; to begin exploring and praying and seeking the heart of God. He will meet us where we are and guide us to the truth when we seek it.

…know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.

I Chronicles 28:9 NKJV

There are many vulnerable people in the world that we should seek to know and to love, but I would like to focus on groups mentioned most frequently throughout the Bible.

Widows/Vulnerable Women

The Bible has a lot to say about widows. Of course the world has changed a lot in the last 2,000 years. Being a widow in the U.S. today is not the desperate situation it would have been in the ancient world, but I don’t think that lets us off the hook on this biblical mandate. While most modern widows aren’t left destitute without a way to support themselves, we can still offer our love and friendship to those who are grieving the loss of a spouse. We can reach out to the lonely and invite them to share in our lives.

We should also look at the intent behind the commands to care for widows. When these were given, widows were incredibly vulnerable members of society. Many times they had limited or no options for providing for their families, and would be in dire straits without help. When we look at society today, we might think of women who may not be literal widows but are still in dire straits. There are some who have been abandoned or abused and find themselves living in a shelter. Some are single mothers struggling to make ends meet or pregnant teenagers alone in a desperate situation.

There are so many ways to help vulnerable women in our communities. Women’s shelters and crisis pregnancy centers are always in need of volunteers and monetary support. Nursing and retirement homes are full of lonely people who could use a visitor and friend. If you take a look around your own neighborhood, there are likely vulnerable women who could use a helping hand just next door.

Fatherless/Vulnerable Children

I could write a full-length essay on all of the needs and opportunities to speak for and love vulnerable children. There are so many in this world. While foster care and adoption are the topics that most often come to mind, not everyone can or should adopt. However, any of us can lend a voice as an advocate or our time as mentors.

You could look for a local CASA program to advocate for children who are in the foster care system. See if there is a local Children’s Advocacy Center where you can volunteer or provide support. An organization that works to keep families together and out of the foster care system, Safe Families for Kids, is also worth looking into. Kids in Need of Defense is a non-profit that helps vulnerable kids so they don’t have to appear in court alone.

Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.

Proverbs 31:8-9 (NKJV)

Another thing to consider is that the word fatherless doesn’t have to apply only to orphans. There are many children growing up in single parent families, or being raised by their grandparents. There are many opportunities to mentor these children and be a positive adult in their lives. While the first organization to come to mind is usually Big Brothers Big Sisters, you can also contact local schools to see what needs they have. Many children are matched with tutors, reading buddies or mentors through the school system.

Immigrants

As we discussed in the previous post, Who is the Stranger?, the most likely modern equivalent of the strangers mentioned throughout the Bible are immigrants. There is a biblical pattern of God’s people being strangers in new lands. Once the Israelites reach their promised homeland, they are instructed to remember their own past and be kind to strangers.

There are many reasons why immigrants would be included in biblical instructions to show compassion to the vulnerable. Newly arrived immigrants in a country have many challenges to overcome. Uprooting and moving to a new land is costly, and many families have to start over with virtually nothing. Language and cultural barriers make it difficult to secure jobs and navigate society. Rather than complain because someone can’t speak English well or they have a different culture, we should be the first to show compassion and welcome to newcomers in our communities.

Many community organizations offer free ESL classes for immigrants who are seeking to learn English, and there is usually a need for volunteers in this area. Sometimes we can start with something small like that and build lasting relationships that can not only help a newly arrived family feel more welcome, but can add a richness to our own life by broadening our worldview.

Refugees

While still technically immigrants, it’s worth a separate mention for the most vulnerable group of “strangers” — refugees. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, defines refugees as “people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country.”1

These people have fled from unspeakable things and are adapting to a whole new world while still carrying wounds from previous trauma. It can feel overwhelming to think about the worldwide refugee crisis, but there are tangible ways to help. There are currently nine organizations that resettle refugees in the U.S. and provide aid as they rebuild their lives here. These organizations are always in need of volunteers and donors. They include:

Refugees are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country.

UNHCR – what is a refugee?

Not everyone has a refugee resettlement agency in their local area, but there are opportunities for anyone to support refugees. Quite a few businesses across the country employ refugees; providing jobs and offering skills training and language classes to their employees. Locating and supporting businesses like this can be a great way to show love to strangers. Some companies that I like are: Preemptive Love Coalition, Treetops Collective, Vickery Trading Co., and We Made This.

The Poor

No matter how large or small your community is, poverty is a global problem. Jesus even told his disciples, “the poor you have with you always”. None of us have the power to defeat the causes of poverty in the world, but we all have the ability to alleviate its effects on those around us.

There are opportunities to help those affected by poverty either through local organizations or building personal relationships on your own. Search for local homeless shelters and outreach programs that provide meals, clothing, shelter and job training opportunities. Locate food pantries and clothing donation centers. These nonprofits are almost always looking for donations and workers to help. Another easy idea is to keep items on hand so you are always ready when you see a need. I’ve seen a lot of great ideas online for care packages that can be kept in a car, and have even heard of families keeping blankets or coats stored in their vehicles at all times in case they come across someone who needs them.

A Caveat

One important thing to keep in mind when we reach out to help the vulnerable is that good intentions do not make us invincible to mistakes. There are certainly wrong ways to try to do the right thing. It’s important when we strive to love strangers that we are putting things in their proper order. Before we can take the right actions, we first need to have the right heart. If we come into a stranger’s life and take over in an attempt to “fix them,” we can quickly end up doing more harm than good.

Jesus’ whole life and mission involve accepting powerlessness and revealing in this powerlessness the limitlessness of God’s love. Here we see what compassion means. It is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not a reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there.

Henri Nouwen

It’s crucial to remember that we cannot solve problems that we don’t understand. Any time we seek to serve others, we need to prepare to do a lot of listening and learning before we seek to jump in with our own answers. We need to have the humility to realize that not everyone has had the same life path as we have, and we don’t have all of the answers to their pain. Our job is to mourn with those who hurt, pray for those who suffer, and walk with them in pursuit of the true Healer and Savior.

Imagine if we all pursued this list with the same passion as our careers or hobbies.

As the body of Christ, we all have different gifts with which to serve, but there is no doubt that everyone has something to offer to those around us. Every person doesn’t have to tackle each idea on this list, but just imagine if every individual in your local congregation was actively pursuing just one of these areas of service. Think of all of the people who would hear about the love of Christ and feel it through the hands and feet of his disciples! Think of all of the hungry hearts and stomachs that could be filled if each of us opened our eyes, our hearts, our hands, and our homes in the biblical style of loving the stranger.

References:

1UNHCR.org, What is a Refugee?, https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/what-is-a-refugee.html.