Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can tear down. Words can build up.
The words that we apply to people—consciously or unconsciously— can keep us from fully being a part of the world God imagines and wants us to work for.
Can you imagine it a world where words of welcome for the stranger, the oppressed, the immigrant, the vulnerable are the words that flow most freely from our lips?
Can you imagine a world where words which express fearfulness of “the other” are banished from our vocabulary as we know ever more fully that every life is a child of God?
Can you imagine a world where words are not used to divide into the “ins” and “outs”, the “haves and the “have-nots” but where words are used to build up our common humanity and to widen the circle of our care?
Those sorts of words, says Paul, are the kinds of words we need to keep saying to one another for they will help us encourage one another to move past the fears that are fomented against the stranger, the “other,” the different.
Those sorts of words are the ones we will need to speak, and sing, and shout if we are to join our imaginations to God’s imagination in helping create a world where, truly, no one is left out, no one is left behind.
Can you imagine it?
Week of Compassion is the relief, refugee and development mission fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada.
Week of Compassion seeks to equip and empower disciples to alleviate the suffering of others through: disaster response, humanitarian aid, sustainable development, and the promotion of mission opportunities.
Week of Compassion is a vital ministry that makes it possible for us to say, when we faithfully and generously support this ministry, we are living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ by sharing with those in need God’s loving compassion that we can, and do, imagine a world where all people are seen and treated as children of God, and that we are at work to make such images a reality.
Today, as we consider our gifts to Week of Compassion, I want to share with you a few of these images becoming a reality.
Imagine a 12-year-old girl or boy whom you might know. Maybe this is a neighborhood child, or perhaps one of your own children or grandchildren. In your mind, what is this child doing on a normal day? Going to school? Eating lunch with friends? Arguing with a sibling?
Today I would like to introduce you to a 12-year-old girl who we’ll call “Z”, which is the first letter of her name. Her life is a little different than the one you might have just imagined for the student you know.
Z was born in Iran, but before she was born her family had fled from Afghanistan. The problem was they were never fully accepted into Iranian society. So, like millions of other refugee and immigrant families, Z’s family began the long journey towards a better life. They came through Serbia, hoping to eventually get to Germany.
For weeks, Z’s days were filled with walking. One day, Z and her family were walking through a park, looking and feeling out of place and afraid, when staff members from an organization called Info Park noticed them. The aid workers approached them, got some of their story, and then offered them help. They offered them hope, actually, in the form of a safe space to rest and a bowl of warm noodles, which Z described as “the sweetest food she has tasted in years.”
Info Park is a partner of Week of Compassion, and through our gifts, they are able to assist refugees to find a place of safe respite and a bite to eat when hungry.
But that’s not all.
Week of Compassion and Info Park also help young girls like Z inch closer to goals that seemed impossible as they navigated borders, checkpoints, and life as exiles. Our gifts help provide for learning centers where girls and boys can escape the life of refugee camps and experience the normalcy that children in many parts of the world take for granted.
Assisted by Week of Compassion and Info Park, Z embarked on a path towards education that she and her mother had dreamed of. Her days became filled with learning—first at Info Park, then at a German school in Hamburg.
Just one month after enrolling in school, she won the Hamburg regional competition for best writing skills among newcomers to Germany. Two years earlier, she didn’t know a word of the language, but now Z is excelling in school and dreaming for a future that is “more than we can imagine!”
First Christian Church of Paradise, California was assumed to have burned to the ground just as nearly all the other buildings destroyed by the Camp Fire in Butler County California last year.
With the town under a mandatory evacuation Pastor Janice McCollester and other church leaders were unable to return to confirm.
That Sunday the FCC Paradise congregation gathered at First Christian Church of Chico, which graciously opened its church, setting up a worship area for them to have and meet at their regular time.
The next few days would bring the news that somehow the church was still standing, unburned.
Regional Minister and President LaTaunya Bynum (former Associate Regional Minister in Ohio) stated, “The report comes as a light among all of the grief of loss.”
Due to smoke damage, the devastation of the town, and ongoing safety concerns, First Christian Church of Paradise will be unusable for some time to come, but in the meantime FCC Chico continues to provide worship and office space for their neighbor congregation.
The Camp Fire, which burned over 140,000 acres, and resulted in dozens of deaths, created immediate needs that were shifting quickly—all on the heels of the Woolsey Fire in Southern California.
With the support and presence of Week of Compassion, and local Disciples churches, opportunities for those immediate and long term needs to be addressed were created and are now maintained—in ways that are more than we can imagine.
Everyone in the area of Ciales, Puerto Rico knows Maria Trinidad. For years they have come to her hill top home for school uniforms, party dresses, and alterations. Mrs. Trinidad could look out the window above her sewing machine and see the whole neighborhood. For over four decades, she has looked out over the place she calls home as she has created clothes for her neighbors.
In September of 2017, Mrs. Trinidad’s home was destroyed.
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Mrs. Trinidad and her sister took shelter in the back room of the house—the only part of the structure made of concrete.
After the storm, the two women found debris strewn everywhere and the house in ruins.
Yet, in the middle of the fractured rafters and twisted roofing stood a table and on it, Mrs. Trinidad’s sewing machine.
Though she received financial assistance from federal programs, the funds could not cover the cost of all the extensive repairs. Mrs. Trinidad did not know what to do when a neighbor referred her to the local Disciples congregation. Disciple’s leaders soon met with Mrs. Trinidad and began coordinating resources and volunteers to rebuild her home so she could get back to the sewing and community she loves.
In partnership with Week of Compassion, the Iglesia Cristiana (Disciples of Christ) in Puerto Rico is helping her piece her life back together.
Our gifts to Week of Compassion are strengthening congregations for disaster response, rebuilding homes damaged by the hurricanes, and helping restore communities and lives.
Our gifts do more than we can imagine!
Week of Compassion is the entity of our church denomination that offers us, members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) the chance to respond to a world in need, in a way that is in line with our mission as a church denomination, our mission as an individual church, and our God given call to be present to those in times of need despite any distance between us.
It is that body that enables us to give someone who is thirsty something to drink, someone who is hungry something to eat, someone who is naked something to wear.
When we support Week of Compassion we are embodying the prayer Paul prayed for God’s followers.
We are strengthened by Christ…
We are rooted and grounded in love…
We are filled with the fullness of God…
…because we are helping create a world where truly no one is left out, and no one is left behind.
It is more than we can imagine.
But that’s what God always does…more than we can imagine. Amen.