There are many rewarding things I get to do in this job and I will be forever grateful to Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones for the opportunity. We have been at it now for almost ten years, approaching our 10th anniversary at the end of 2016.
We say that our vision is that the love of Christ will be experienced in tangible ways by those in our community who are disadvantaged or who are suffering spiritually, physically, or emotionally. And that is our vision. But I confess that too often we may focus on the disadvantaged or suffering aspects of our work and not so much on the love of Christ part. If we think about his love, we come to realize how his expression of that love to and through us brings joy, lasting joy, and with it light and hope in a very dark world. We know that God loves us, that he is in control, that he is present and active in our world today. Our call is to love him and express that love actively and tangibly by loving our neighbors, now, today, in his kingdom on earth, bringing them his joy and light and hope. So this year, I have decided to reflect on some of the ways we have seen Joy and Light and Hope in the work we get to do, all of which affirm that in spite of hardship, we are loved by God.
On a site visit earlier this year I was standing in the back of an auditorium observing children coming into a year-end assembly where they would learn about an exciting summer opportunity. Music was playing and the children were filing in by class. One child, a very small thin boy, came in marching to the music as if he were in the band and beating an imaginary drum. He was lost in his imagination and watching him was an experience of Joy, his and mine. Whatever problems or challenges he might have to face at home or later at school or in the neighborhood were for the moment erased by the experience of music and friendship and the anticipation of surprises that would come from a caring leadership team. Another time, I was able to participate in the opening of a new camp for children and adults with disabilities offering a week of respite for family members and a week of fun and enrichment for the campers. Again, Joy. In 2015, we saw disabled veterans matched with service dogs to enrich the lives of both; Joy, and relief. We met children who had walked into a hospital in Ethiopia on club feet and who, after corrective surgery, left healed and Joyful, able to rejoin their families and friends. At Christmas when a mother was able to buy at very low cost a new bicycle to give to her child, or in the summer when a sick child’s wish for a trip to Disney World was fulfilled, we observed Joy! And Laughter!
But more than the happiness that follows from the experiences described above, Joy is a reflection of love that changes the lives of the giver and the receiver. We see it daily and we too experience it as we see how the lives of children and families can be made better. It’s impossible not to be joyful when you see dedicated mental health professionals determined to heal, or parents determined to learn how to be better parents or teachers lovingly working with special needs children. The work is hard, the need is great, but there is love being expressed and received and through that, Joy is experienced by the giver and receiver of that love. What a great outcome to the work we get to support.
The love of Christ we seek to share is also described as Light. We know that there is darkness in our world, but our faith affirms that there is a Light that overcomes it and we see this light in all of our work. We see children who are caught in cycles of abuse or neglect find voice in their CASA and justice through the children’s advocacy centers in our community. These servants bring Light to children in need, Light shining in very dark places. Around the world, too many live in unimaginable poverty without clean water or medical attention, or find themselves in violent or oppressive relationships, actually or effectively enslaved by those who are stronger and meaner. Providers of water and medical attention and defenders of the oppressed and enslaved come to the rescue. Again, Light, strong bright Light pointing the way out of darkness. In our own neighborhoods, preschoolers and elementary school children miss opportunities to be exposed to books, or nature, or the outdoors, or the arts because their parents lack resources or skills or awareness of the importance of early childhood development. But there are those speaking for them, advocating to provide opportunities, educating parents and children and training those who nurture these children so that they will have the same opportunities as their more affluent peers. Light shines and that Light brings Hope. Out-of-school-time providers welcome children with warmth, food and attention after school or during the summer when the alternative is a lonely house or apartment without constructive activity. Again, Light, and Hope for a better future.
Yes, we are living in a world that has many dark places. It can be overwhelming, and it is, to many who stumble and fall. But there are many dedicated to spreading Joy and Light and Hope throughout the world. We are blessed to observe these things as we visit our partners, see their commitment and experience the ways in which they make the lives of those they serve better. These partners themselves embody Joy and Light and Hope. It’s contagious; it’s God-given. And it will win.
Thornton Hardie, President
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.