What is our calling? What is it that God wants us to do in the places where we are with the resources he has given? Our Lord has summarized our call in just a few words; love God and love your neighbor. Easy to say but where do we draw the line? Confronted with this command, the expert in the law asked “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). In our world of Christian philanthropy, thinking about this question can be overwhelming. Our principal geographical focus here at The Rees-Jones Foundation has been local, but even here, we see far more neighbors in need than we can ever reach. And with an expanding interest in international programs, the task is insurmountable.
We have chosen to focus on serving neighbors in a few specific areas. One is mental health. Some of our younger neighbors are plagued with biological or environmental conditions that leave them suffering from depression or other mental illness or from the effects of trauma or disability. Fortunately, we have great partners working to relieve their suffering. In 2016, we were excited about the prospect of a new diagnostic tool being developed at UT Southwestern Medical Center Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care to screen for and then treat depression among adolescents. What a blessing it will be if young people can be diagnosed and then treated at an early age for a disease that, left untreated, will lead to suffering and even death. We are anxious to see this new tool developed, refined and widely used, routinely, in clinics everywhere. Other key partners in 2016 included Jewish Family Services, Lena Pope Home, Momentous Institute, Galaxy Counseling Center and The Parenting Center, all providing essential therapeutic mental health services to children and youth in our community.
Another focus area for us has been and continues to be the protection of vulnerable children from abuse and neglect. These young neighbors need someone to stand for them. Ideally that someone will be their parents. Children are best protected if their parents are best prepared for the job. To this end, we have become strong supporters of programs offering in-home parenting services so that young, often single, new parents can gain parenting skills that will enable them to provide safe and secure homes for their children. In 2016, we continued our long-standing support of the Nurse Family Partnership programming offered by WiNGS and others and of the in-home visiting and training programs of Lumin, Family Compass and others. If only more could be reached.
We also have neighbors suffering physically and scarred by disabilities that leave them unable to thrive. The burdens of these neighbors have weighed heavily on us as we have expanded our international work. In Africa and other parts of our world, children suffer from clubfoot and other deformities and health conditions that in the US could be remedied easily and inexpensively at an early age. We are in awe of the work done by CURE and Mercy Ships as they bring healing and restoration to suffering children and adults who were without hope; this healing and restoration offered with love motivated by their call to love their neighbors.
We return to the question “Who is my neighbor?” Our neighbors are everywhere. To love them all is overwhelming. So what do we do? In response to the question, Jesus asked a different one; “Who was a neighbor” to the person in need. As we reflect on his question and the work we have to do in a world of limitless need, we begin to see that our calling is to love God and our neighbors by being a neighbor, and that means taking all that we have and all that we are and using it to address the opportunities presented to us where we are and all along the paths we are following. The Samaritan on the road to Jericho had many neighbors as we all have many neighbors. But he was on the road where he encountered a man who had been robbed and left to die. His compassion and willingness to use his time and money to help this man gives us the model of service that defines being a neighbor.
No, we can’t do everything we would like to do. But we are on a road, one chosen for us and defined by the priorities we have identified for our work, and we want to be neighbors to those we encounter along this road. The great thing for us is we have others who walk with us, others ready to be neighbors. Together, jointly, using what time and money and skills and love we bring to the work, we will be able to make better the lives of those we encounter on the road.
Thornton Hardie, President
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”