Legend has it that Nelson Rockefeller, while governor of New York, was invited to a meeting of residents concerned about homelessness and hunger in the area. Ironically, it was a luncheon meeting. A local minister accompanied him through the buffet line, where the two casually chatted. At the end of the line, Mr. Rockefeller noticed that the minister’s plate had much less on it than his own. He laughed nervously and said, “My goodness, my plate is so full and yours is so empty.” The minister looked back at him and said, “Mr. Rockefeller, that is exactly why we asked you here today.”
We all know there are places where people’s plates are nearly empty compared to ours. Where people die of starvation. Where there is no electricity. Where life expectancy is 38 years. Where there’s one doctor for every 20 people. Where only half the children go to school. Where you die from drinking the water. Where mosquitoes bite and kill people. Where half the people are unemployed, and the other half only make one dollar a day. Where one in five children dies before the age of 5.
Some of us have been there.
The city was dark upon my first visit to Freetown, Sierra Leone. The hotel was dimly lit by kerosene lanterns. I made sure to carefully move the one small candle about my room before I blew it out and went to bed. As the morning sunlight filled my room, I saw it for the first time. In the darkness, I hadn’t seen the dirty walls and shower floor or the bugs creeping about. Nor had I seen the signs of poverty in the city coming in under the cover of darkness. I had not seen anything that might make me feel uncomfortable.
It occurred to me then that there have been too many times in my life when I would have just as soon been kept in the dark. Not the literal darkness, but the figurative darkness of the mind and heart that is manifested by a deliberate lack of knowledge and a determined apathy for certain issues, situations, and people who might challenge my personal lifestyle.
But that cannot be the way for those who heed the Lord’s call to heal a broken world. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that “the people who once sat in darkness have seen a great light.”
That is why I am so thankful for people like you who give to Imagine No Malaria, pack food for hungry persons, give to disaster relief worldwide, support your local food shelf or shelter, pay your apportionments, and seek to tangibly show the love of Christ in so many ways. You are making a difference! You are part of a large movement called the United Methodist Church.
We are going to celebrate all of this at annual conference this year. There will be a ministry fair on Thursday called “50 Ways to Love Your Neighbor.” I hope you’ll come and be a part of it. Lots of churches with impactful outreach ministries will be there to share about what they’re doing. All of us will get great ideas to take home.
Whether or not you make it to St. Cloud this May, please hear our thanks for all you have done and will keep on doing. Thanks for getting a little uncomfortable at times and continually seeking to find new ways to love those around you and throughout the world.
Lyndy Zabel is director of missional impact for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church