I’d love you all to meet Miraji. He’s my sponsored child from Compassion. He’s eight years old and he lives near Moshi in Tanzania. For fun Miraji likes to play football, draw pictures and tell stories. My hope for his life is that he will be part of the generation that breaks cyclical poverty in the region. Last week I received an updated photo of him through the post; he’s grown taller and if ever there was a kid who didn’t want to stand in front of the camera it’s probably him. You see, he doesn’t like the stand up straight and pose type of photograph. He does however brim with joy on the one he sent last year after his birthday, he’s stood with the things he bought with the money I sent. There are some new clothes and shoes, a big bag of rice, toothpaste, and all kinds of other things that we take for granted here.
As a compassion advocate I know why we do this; I know what the charity does and the reasons it’s good and when we’re at events I’ll talk to potential sponsors about the importance of not only sponsoring financially but of building relationship with your child through letter writing and prayer. Why is it then that alongside joy, I felt guilt when I opened the latest photo from my sponsor child? It’s because I know that I don’t pray for him nearly enough.
I’m going to be totally honest because I suspect that many other sponsors are the same and you know what? We need to up our game. I really feel challenged on this issue. I pray daily and you can count on the fact that when I have a need I’ll bring it to God frequently, why then don’t I remember Miraji daily? Why is it that so often I fall into the habit of only really praying for him when prompted by letters, photos or emails? I want my heart to line up with the heart of God on this issue and when we look at the heart of God we see that He places massive importance on caring for those in need. It’s not an optional extra to our faith, it is right there at the centre of it.
When James writes that “true religion is to care for the widows and the orphans” and “faith without works is dead”. He’s not suggesting justification by works, he’s pointing to something far scarier: if we don’t care for the poor and the oppressed, if we don’t put our faith into action then our faith is dead and our heart is not God’s heart. No amount of good works will earn us the gift of salvation, but if we aren’t doing anything then that actually calls into question our faith itself. Isaiah really brings how we behave towards the poor, the broken and the oppressed into sharp focus:
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
– Isaiah 58:6-7 (ESV)
It’s sad to me that throughout history faith has became known more for religious traditions and dogma than it has for the things that God wants us to do. This chapter in Isaiah talks about religious observance and paints a picture of a people observing days of fasting and afflicting themselves for all the wrong reasons. What God desires of us is a focus on others; He asks what our religious observances really mean if that is all they are and tells us straight exactly what he desires us to do. What He presents as what He wants, even at a time when the law was in force, isn’t a list of ways to be ceremonially clean or make sacrifices but a manifesto for helping those in need. That is the heart of God. When we look for truth we have to look for what is eternal and, while the law and traditions are temporal and pass, the overwhelming love and compassion of God for His creation is eternal.
When we look at things in this light we realise that our act of child sponsorship, or helping to free trafficked women, or feeding the homeless, or helping our neighbours, isn’t just something we do but is actually an act of worship. We’re saying to God that we recognise where His heart is and that we will take what we have and use it to align our heart with His heart. If you don’t sponsor a child, I’d really encourage you to get involved with Compassion either via their website or through your local church but please, please, don’t rest on the perceived laurels of paying a sum of money every month. That is a great start, but it is not enough. We need to be writing, encouraging and praying for our children. Miraji will be fed, watered, taught the bible and given medical care because of the £21 a month that it costs to sponsor him but what will really mould him into the man he needs to become is encouragement, it’s knowing that someone believes in him, it’s knowing that someone thousands of miles away is taking an active interest in his development and praying to an awesome God for his well-being. I long for the day I open one of his letters and find that he has made a conscious decision to give his life to Christ; I need to be making sure that in all of my letters I’m talking of the love of God and that I’m praying and expecting that day to come.
I’m highlighting Compassion here because it’s a charity I’m actively involved with but the challenge that I’m feeling over how much I input into Miraji’s life is equally relevant to all of our service as Christians. It’s not just about a particular charity or a particular event. Do we wear A21 bands because they’re cool or do we wear them armed with facts and statistics to raise awareness of the problem of trafficking? And do we back that up with prayer for the victims? Do we turn up for two hours to a community event once a month but neglect to be praying into that community for the other 29 days? When we have an opportunity to invest financially in good causes are we thinking of the cost or are we thinking of the call to live lives of impact and influence? God is not calling us to a life with acts of service, He is calling us to a life of service. There is a difference. He doesn’t want an habitual observance but an overflow of His love from our hearts to our communities, our cities and our worlds. Child sponsorship represents just one way in which we can show that love.
What makes Compassion a great charity is the fact that it aligns itself with the desire of God to look after those in need and to reach those who are lost. Next week I’ll be representing Compassion at a conference, chatting to delegates and encouraging them to sponsor a child; I will doubtless tell them the amazing story of Peace Ruharuza and how she told us first hand how much the letters and the prayers meant to her. So the challenge for me is to make sure that I practice what I promote and that I am dedicating real effort to praying for Miraji. I am being honest here; I don’t do it enough at the moment and am going to make it a priority to do it every day. I’m not asking you if you sponsor, nor if you remember to pray frequently for any children you do sponsor, but you know what? Feel free to comment if you do feel moved to, share what you do to remember to pray or join me in committing to pray more often.
God doesn’t relegate what we do for those in need to second class status, He elevates it and makes it a core part of who we are. This is the fast that he chooses.