FIVE weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown, I received an unusual text. It was from an unknown number, but that was normal. The organization I work for was running an emergency food bank. The message came in through the emergency number, but it happened to be redirected to my personal cell. Usually those messages read, “Are you still offering groceries?” or “What time are you open?”
words + photographs ITAMAR ELIZALDE
This message simply said: I live alone. I need help.
I typed back, “Can I call you?”
I met Rosa through that brief phone call. In her words, she was severely depressed and afraid to leave her home. There was a priest who would come by to bring her groceries every week but stopped because he had contracted COVID-19 (and would later succumb to it). Her anxiety skyrocketed.
She saw the emergency number on social media and hoped a text would be seen. Rosa lived near a local pastor and his family. So, I called them. He and his wife visited Rosa, left her some groceries, and greeted her from the sidewalk.
This continued until they were able to come closer to her home to greet her. Then she accepted the invitation to go to church. She heard the Gospel, responded in faith, and gained a family, discipleship and help with mental health services.
Months later, I received another text.
There was a young mother who was recently widowed. She was starting a new life with her little ones and didn’t have bedding. The local church reached out to us. In partnership with them, we were able to find bedding and other necessities while the members of the church followed up and committed to pray. Recently, they shared this text from her:
“The two times I have woken up with specific thoughts of ending my life, you have arrived. Yesterday was one of those days. The calls, the messages, have come just when I need to know that there is a someone that God is ‘sending with relief.’ The material help has been a great blessing and the means/excuse that God has used to tell me, ‘I am here with you, watching over you and yours.’ Every prayer, every word said has had a special meaning between God and me. I know God holds a greater blessing with which I will one day say…. ‘oohhh this is why I had to go through everything I’ve been through…’ Perhaps one day, when I return to church, I will share those words with those who need to hear them. May God continue to bless you. Thank you. Do not stop praying. You have saved my life.”
I share these two stories to respond to the question: How have I seen the Lord love those who are forgotten?
My answer is simple: through the local Church.
Charities like food banks or places that meet material needs are good and necessary. The Lord provides for many through these means. But I have seen the Lord love the forgotten through prayer, follow up, phone calls and the reassuring smile that says, “God sees you, and so do we.”
John 3:16 famously says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son … .”
That same Son shared a story about a man left for dead and receiving care from an unlikely source. He told his listeners, “Go and do the same.” Some of His last words on Earth to His followers were, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
As a friend likes to say, “God sent His Son; His Son sent us.” Of course, the church doesn’t compare to Jesus, but we have been empowered by His Spirit in us to walk as He walked (1 John 2:6) and see the forgotten ones. Once we see them, the Lord has given us the gift of His church to go beyond providing for a need and into being equipped to love as we have been loved through His Son.
It is a big task. But the Lord has enabled us to do this together. I hope you and your church would be granted the honor of caring for society’s forgotten ones. IE
Itamar Elizalde serves local churches as a ministry coordinator with Send Relief Puerto Rico, the mercy and compassion ministry arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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