Scriptural Context: Philippians
This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.
- Philippians 1:9-11 (CEB)
From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.
- Philippians 4:8-9 (CEB)
My dear friend Cindy is a mission coworker for the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Haiti. She uses the hashtag #whateverislovely on social media to share some of the beauty she encounters all around the country.
Cindy serves the people of Haiti with a constant posture of humility. She is an incredible storyteller who encourages the people of Haiti to share their perspectives. It is her mission to offer them a platform to use their voice. She wants them to speak their own truths and empower their own change. Haiti is famous for being empowered - she wants to remind them of that. I believe it is Cindy’s prayer - like Paul - that we may experience richer love from having heard the insight that the Haitian people have to offer.
I have visited Cindy at her home in Port-Au-Prince several times over the years. She calls it “The Refuge” because it is a place where any and all are welcome to come and stay for a day or two and share a meal or two. It’s a safe place to lay your head in the middle of a buzzing city. Her invitation to come, and rest, extends to any and all that are in need.
In particular, Cindy serves Haiti’s most vulnerable populations: women, children, the elderly. She seeks them out in a crowd - at every destination all across the country - and wanders over to them like a child. She wants to hear what they have to say. She wants to offer them a platform to share their story. She reminds me of 13-year-old Jesus sometimes - leaving her parents and boldly going to serve the people.
Cindy knows the value of the lessons Paul is trying to teach the Philippians - she is seeking what is true, holy, just, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise.
In this time of great uncertainty, it is perhaps right to seek wisdom from missionaries on how we can serve the most vulnerable populations. I have been awake at 2 in the morning thinking about how we can deliver supplies to those in need. I’m wondering how I can give financially, spiritually, emotionally, physically to aid efforts the middle of a pandemic that could leave me literally breathless.
I can’t stop thinking about the way Cindy (like Paul) writes letters to her supporters. She thanks those that have offered her provisions - financial support that allowed her to have a meal each day, shelter, and clean water. She also reminds her supporters, gently and diplomatically, that it is their responsibility to support the most vulnerable - in this case the communities they support in Haiti. She wants them to have eyes to see what is true and just and holy.
I’ve been challenged this week to think of my responsibilities. Since the pandemic entered our world, I’ve felt a comfort in thinking of the Lord as my portion and provision. I’ve searched for scriptural context that implied that God was going to handle all of this. We are cool, right Lord? Just relax, watch Netflix, and let the shelves at the grocery store refill.
I am guilty of confusing my privilege with God’s provision.
The Lord is my portion. But we also need food, right? Toilet Paper? Shelter? Water? This pandemic is happening in our community. Right in front of us. The pandemic is happening to you and to me.
At the same time, the pandemic is also happening to them: the people that need provisions. It is happening to those that were already vulnerable. Some that will go without food, for a while. The homeless. The sick. The thirsty.
It is happening to the people of Haiti.
When I imagine the repercussions of COVID-19 on my loved ones in Haiti, I feel a desperate need to focus on something else - another episode of bottomless television, a snack from my pantry, a funny video, planning a wedding on Pinterest.
I don’t want to think about Port-Au-Prince, one of the most densely packed cities in the world, attempting to social distance. I cannot stomach the thoughts of Haiti in this: to imagine the busy streets where cars scrape by in chaotic intersections - where people fill up public transportation to its absolute capacity - where water is not readily available or clean or running from a spigot - where hospitals are already short on PPEs. I can’t wrap my mind around this country “social distancing.”
Doesn’t your heart ache to do something, anything to make that suffering a little less?
Mine too. Maybe that is the point of Paul’s letter.
Paul is encouraging the Philippians (and me) to pay attention; to check their privilege. He is encouraging them to experience richer love for having seen what really matters. He’s asking them to look at what is happening in the world around them. He wants them to notice that there are scary things ahead. He’s sharing his experience so that they too can have the knowledge of suffering.
My clean water will likely always be there, providing me with a cool refreshing drink. Some people will be thirsty.
I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength. Still, you have done well to share my distress.
- Philippians 4:12-14 (CEB)
The aisles are empty now at the grocery store, but we have been hoarding provisions for a lot longer than 2 weeks.
Perhaps that insight will allow our love to grow deeper.