In American culture and society we tend to misinterpret what it means to be neighbor. I would often imagine neighbor as being a synonym for someone close like a family member or a best friend.
When we went to church today, I was able to see how we could define what being a neighbor means, and how we can go off being better neighbors to one another. A great passage for this topic is in the middle of Luke's Gospel, in Chapter 10.
In this selection, someone who is well versed in law asks Jesus a series of questions. The last question that this man asked Jesus was: "And who is my neighbor?"
Jesus then illustrates a parable in which a man on a journey was attacked by robbers, leaving this man on deaths door. A Priest walked by and did nothing to help the injured man. A Levite did the same as the Priest, and ignored the injured man. But a third man, a Samaritan, helped the injured man by cleaning up his wounds, taking him to an inn, and watching over him to make sure that the injured man would recover. The Samaritan even payed extra funds to the inn keeper, to make sure that the injured man could recover with the help from someone who could take care of him, and the Samaritan also offered to pay any future fee in regards to the injured mans recovery.
Jesus then asked the expert in Law, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The Law expert replied "The one who had mercy on him", and Jesus closes this parable by saying, "Go and do likewise".
We are all neighbors, but growing up I never saw it that way. I grew up in a very individualistic and selfish society, where people focused on themselves and their families. The poor and those in need were often ignored and forgotten about.
Even in my time as a follower of Jesus Christ, often times I ignored a person in need even when God was telling me to help them. Part of that is fear of the unknown or possible negative repurcussions, but if God is telling you to do something, you should follow through with his plan for you.
In Malawi, I was reminded that in America we are the 1%, and have so much to be thankful for that we often forget about just that, to be thankful. I have interacted with people who have so much less than what we have in America, some who live on less than $1. Yet, they are happy. They don't get flustered like some of us Americans do over trivial things and they trust God's plan for them and are living the dream.
These Malawians are our neighbors just as Jesus describes in Luke Chapter 10. We as a society need to do a better job of helping those in need just as Jesus would do in a similar situation. We as a society need to let go of a consuming materialism that drives our emotions too much, and need to help others where we see a need. I have struggled with this a lot of late, and God provided me an opportunity to provide someone with a good that would be of use to them.
Yesterday we traveled to Lake Malawi, and before we got to our destination, we stopped our car by a grouping of wood carving shops. As we were making purchases and looking around, a man asked me if he could do a trade. I was confused at first, and then he pointed to my sweatshirt. It was one of my UVa sweatshirts. I honestly didn't want anything in the store, but he told me of how the winter period would get very cold, and how many people would get sick. He said that shirts like mine were hard to come by, and that it would be a very valuable asset to them. I thought about it for a second. How many sweatshirts have I gotten from basketball? A bagillion! Here was God telling me that I didn't need this, but that someone else did. I took off my shirt, and gave it to this man in exchange for some rhino figure (lol). I didn't care about his little figure, I was just happy that God used me to help someone in need, and to shine Jesus' light in my interaction with that man. I have enough material goods, that others could use, and ended up giving a man a towel at another stand.
I need to be more thankful for the situation that Jesus put me in, and to do a better job of allocating resources that I have access to, to those who need them. We have so much in the Western world, and sometimes we need to go to an impoverished nation to be reminded that there is so much more that we can do. I now know how to be a good neighbor, just as Jesus described in the parable, and in the future need to make the most of situations where God wants to use me to help those that are in need.
-Michael Carpenter, 2014 MOAM Student Manager Missionary
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