Jesus spoke about caring for “the least of these.”
Who are they? There are some marginalized people with whom I enjoy friendship. I don’t view them in this category. Maybe “the least of these” are the people I have very little time for. Whoever they are, there was a growing conviction that I needed to begin to intentionally invest in them. Jesus speaks about them (Matthew 25), so I began to ask God for greater understanding.
While attending worldview meetings in Hong Kong, I asked God to help me find one of “the least of these.” I didn’t know where to find them or what they looked like. I didn’t know what to do with them. I simply had a growing longing to care for them and participate in their lives.
Upon my return home, I found a petition in my mailbox, unsigned from a concerned neighbour. Apparently we had a rehabilitation house in our neighbourhood and this individual believed its residents were a danger to our children. It was very much a letter about, “Not in my backyard.” The notice provided selected information about this group. I went to the internet and explored the accusations.
A second, unsigned flyer was placed in my mailbox a week later from a concerned neighbour, asking us to join an online petition to have this house removed. They also urged us to go to a meeting at city hall to voice our opposition to this home. In the meantime, we had discovered that this home was operated by Christians. Its policies were based on a discipleship model of education and accountability. The men in this house were behaving responsibly and even came forward and exposed a marijuana grow operation down the street. They were instrumental in having it shut down.
My wife and I were determined to attend that meeting. Many opinions were voiced. Many assumptions were shared. Emotion flowed. The men in that house, exposed to the onslaught, felt very little support from their community. The symptoms of veiled prejudice weren’t hard to identify.
No one had visited these men in their home. No one had seen who lived there and what was done there. No one had offered to help and encourage these men to get off drugs. Almost everyone wanted them to leave our neighbourhood. And no one was asking whether this rehabilitation house was part of the problem or part of the solution? These men had shut down a grow op. These men were no longer on the street consuming drugs, and some were no longer stealing cars and breaking into homes. These men had families and wanted their lives back. They felt no encouragement from the neighbourhood but they continued on in their commitment to doing the best they could. Imagine the outcome if their neighbours encouraged them, visited them, mentored them.
So I stood in defence of that home. I openly stated I wanted them in our neighbourhood. I warned about being careful to not fight part of the solution out of fear. No one wants to place their children at risk. Be wise. Be responsible. Recognize that someone needs to stand and be accounted for. The next day, Nancy made some pastry and we, with our two youngest daughters, went and visited the nine men. They were kind men, good men committed to getting off drugs, wanting to grow in all aspects of their lives, including their spiritual understanding. They had been studying the Bible together but couldn’t find anyone to come and guide them.
Love is a risk. Love is humbling. Love is not without cost. But love changes you.
It isn’t hard to reach out into your own community when it is the byproduct of God’s transforming work in your life. It feels very natural. Be careful to not put the cart before the horse. God is transforming you. He does it most effectively as you give yourself to others. Remember Moses’ words: “(Lord) If your presence does not go with us, do not send us from here” (Ex. 33:15 NIV).
As God continues his work in us, we become more beautiful to those who are looking. We give back to those around us what God has given to us. That includes our knowledge of God (an example being the salvation story). It also includes mercy, grace and justice.
We lost the group housing fight on a technicality. The house was located five meters too close to a public school. The battle, however, for our communities is not over.
Reflections for the Journey
Are you courageous enough to say, “I want the marginalized in my backyard?” Define for yourself who “the least of these” refers to. Seek out those people and find out more about them. Are there ways for you to share parts of your lives with each other? (Read Matthew 25:31–46).
David Collins is our new interim lead pastor! He is the founder of Canadian Food for the Hungry International, the Global Hunger Foundation, and Paradigm Ministries. He's been a pastor, CEO, consultant and mentor. He and his wife have worked abroad to seek sustainable solutions in the midst of human cruelty and natural disasters. Author of two books, David continues to help people understand the power of ideas and how someone's motives correspond to Biblical integrity.