15 December 2017

Poor yet rich

Some Bible verses are just plain hard.

Our perceived meaning is often far from the truth that God intended. Take Philippians 4:19, “My God shall supply all your need…” for example. I had never thought of it as a hard verse, rather one to rejoice over. I mean, when the supermarket checkout operator asks me, “How many bags do you have with you today?” I am always surprised to find that I still require the odd plastic carrier bag to fit everything in. And with an ever grateful heart I place the bulging bags in the boot of the car with a casual, “You’ve done it again, Lord… supplied all my needs… and more,” I hasten to add.

How easily geography can change your opinion. Far from home and sitting in a ramshackle church building,boasting only two part-built walls, Philippians 4:19 has suddenly become hard. Looking into the eyes of hungry, homeless children, I wonder, “Is this verse for you too?” After all, the feeding programme only happens once a month. “How do you live in between?”

And then I saw her. She was walking towards me; head bowed low, shoulders bent… not with age, but with the hardships life had dealt her.

The dusty blue patterned sarong wrapped itself many times around her waist, adding false inches to a bony frame. Her brown, wrinkled skin testified to the years she had spent working under the heat of the Burmese sun.

The backbreaking work of planting in the paddy fields; of cultivating her village garden, and feeding the family pig, would have been shared with her husband and children. And the delight of harvest would have been shared with them too.

Yet now, she had to take hand-outs from strangers. The land around her was not hers to work; the banana tree she passed to get to church, not hers to pick from; the family pig had been slaughtered some time ago… on the same day as her husband. And I trembled as she approached me. “Is Philippians 4:19 for her too Lord?” my heart whispered.

In my hands I held one measly bag of food, with this she was meant to feed what remained of her family… now destitute because of Burma’s increasingly successful policy of ethnic cleansing toward the Karen people.

One bottle of cooking oil, three bags of high protein beans, pasta, rice, crackers, salt, soap and shampoo… held together in one plastic carrier bag! And before I was able to pass it to her, she brought together her bony hands under her chin and bowed with respectful thanks.

And I was humbled beyond words.

For the briefest of moments our eyes met, and as they did she smiled at me… and that smile touched my heart, because in that instant my spirit witnessed with her spirit that she had been born of God. We were two women, worlds apart… in more than just geography, yet with one Saviour. As she turned to go I groaned, wondering if Philippians 4:19 was really being worked out in her life.

A little bag of food, a makeshift bamboo house in a foreign land and a future that, to me, was no future at all.

Yet when the Apostle Paul wrote those words to the young, suffering church at Philippi it was in response to their sacrificial giving to him while he was in prison.

Neither Paul nor the Philippians had the abundance of things that we regard as ‘need’. I was learning that my

understanding of Paul’s words was far from the real truth that the verse was conveying. In fact my little friend on the Thai/Burma border actually knew more about the reality of Philippians 4:19 in her poverty than I would ever know.

In spite of the onslaught of evil against her life, God is meeting her ‘need’ everyday… she is experiencing what it really means to be poor, yet rich… in Christ Jesus. But we also have a part to play, just as the Philippians had in Paul’s day. “Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:9,10.

Catherine Campbell