I sensed that God was telling me to go to India and my defenses started kicking into high gear. I had heard the horror stories about India from other Christians and I had put India on my “Do not go to,” list. I was warned about the rats, the lack of anything being sanitary, and to top it all off, I really do not like Indian food. So when I sensed God telling me to go, I responded to Him to send someone else; I would rather go witness to the mafia! For a whole summer I could not shake off God putting India on my heart and I kept on saying in my spirit, NO. Finally as the stubborn Italian that I am, I decided to bargain with the Lord. I told him that I would go if He would set up the whole trip; the pastor seminars, outreaches, everything, and only then I would go. Knowing all the hours and logistics it takes to set up a trip, I figured I boxed God in. The Scriptures tell us, “nothing is impossible with God,” and a week later a friend called me up and said, “Joe, I want you to come to India with me, everything is already set up!” I reluctantly agreed as God clearly was meeting my impossible demand. When I arrived in India, it was worse than I had ever imagined, and I had imagined the worst! It was a total assault on all my senses from the minute I stepped out of the airport. We went from the flight directly onto a small bus and it was like 4 hours of being on a wild roller coaster! The traffic was coming at us in every direction. I shut my eyes and prepared to die. We finally stopped at a hotel called the Ashray. I think the hotel should have been called Ashtray because it was just as dirty as one. When I saw my dirty room with a greasy pillow case and hair on it I said to the Lord, “Do you now see why I didn’t want to come here!” God then spoke to my spirit clearly when He said, “Get your eyes off yourself, your flesh, and look at the harvest in this country.” I repented and it was like a spiritual revival in my soul occurred. Now the trees seemed greener, the sky seemed bluer, and people now seemed warmer when I simply showed them love. India is still a crazy place. It is like a wild adventure movie, and I had become a part of it.
I have now been to India 4 times, even going into many slums to minister to the people, showing the Jesus Film, distributing New Testaments and gifts, giving the people a hot meal, and sharing the love of Jesus with them. I must say, I fell in love with India, and more importantly with the people of India.
The most important aspect I can point out of all my trips around the world is that I do them out of obedience to God, for the love I have for Him, and for my fellow man. The Scriptures tells us that the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord our God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourselves.” Now my neighbor may be next door, or my neighbor may be 8000 miles away. I am not saved by what I do, or in other words, I am not saved by my works, BUT my works demonstrate that I am saved. Jesus told us the same thing in Matt 25:31-46 when He said; “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
We see by this passage that the biggest difference between the two groups of people is that one group demonstrated Christ, and the other group didn’t. One group showed that the same Jesus that lived 2000 years ago was doing His work through people reaching out in His name, the other group was Christian in name only. One group who Jesus called the sheep, who listened to Him as the Great Shepherd, “…did it to the least of these my brothers…,” or as Jesus finishes the verse, “You did it to ME.” Jesus then called the other group “goats,” in other words, stubborn people who wanted to do things their way; “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”
Jesus is telling us the answer to our final exam regarding our lives; how we treat others will determine our destiny, because how we treat others reveals the state of our relationship to Jesus.
…For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…” America is a country of extremes. I have been to countries where people have no food at all, so they were eating the leaves off the trees! In America we have a smorgasbord of food to choose from. We have every type of food imaginable. The verse that keeps on going through me the last few years is, “Everyone who has been given much, much will be required…” (Luke 12:48). That verse haunts me when I see how much I have been given as an American, and yet I go to countries where people have nothing to eat. Now I am not considered a rich person by American standards, but by Haitian standards I am a billionaire. When I offered some children a small bag of potato chips they said, “that is the food of rich people.” We have to realize that God gives us much in order that we may be a blessing to others. All of us have been given something that we can share with others. If we don’t take the opportunities we have to be a blessing and squander or hoard these for ourselves, they will eventually be taken from us. Winston Churchill said “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
I assure you my heart is broken over the conditions of starving people, but is more than just broken; it is active in seeking how I can feed those that are starving. On one mission trip our team had been stopped by the Mexican border agents and taken in for trying to bring in a thousand pounds of rice and beans. They thought we were selling it on the black market. Now before you think, I can’t afford to feed them, I must confess, neither could we! Yet when you have the heart that wants to feed them, and the faith that starts the process to feed them; God then steps in. We all are familiar with the account of Jesus feeding 5000 men in Matthew 14:15-21: “...Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.”
The words that stick out to me here are, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” The disciples only had five loaves of bread and two fish for 5000 men, and considering the women and children, many scholars believe the number was closer to 12,000! Yet Jesus was simply saying, “I will provide the food, but you feed them!” When we are working in God’s will and work, just go about the task and let Him be the supplier.
I believe the most important thing we can do is feed them Jesus. There is a hunger and thirst for Jesus for many. Are we at least doing that? As we feed children and adults food, we are introducing them to the Great Shepherd; the One who promises to take care of them; to feed and nurture them, if they would simply have a relationship with Him. God tells us in Isaiah 55:1; “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” Even if the people have the finances they are spiritually bankrupt, so this verse tells us to feed Jesus to them.
“…I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me…”When we are in a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ, filled with his Spirit, serving His cause, we will be unaware that our goodness, kindness, faithfulness, and gentleness toward others is anything other than natural. When God put strangers in front of us to reach out to them; do we shun or welcome them? The apostle John reinforced reaching out to the poor when he said, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (I John 3:17-18). I believe that God wants us to do more than just send a poor child monthly support, or to give some clothes during a clothing drive.
Today we all have closets, dressers, and storage areas full of clothes that many of us are not using, and worst of all, not sharing. If we would just make an effort, then God steps in and works through us. When I was in Haiti, I went up to the mountain villages. It was a three hour drive up several thousand feet of a single lane winding road. If we went too far over, we would have gone over the cliff to our death. Then we hiked another several miles to a small school and church to minister to the children. I saw a small little 6 year old girl with men’s shoes that were double her size and I said in my spirit, “I am coming back with shoes.” I did not have the slightest idea how I was going to do it, or where to even get the shoes, but God put the burden on my heart. A month later a sister in Christ called and asked me if I wanted children’s shoes, hundreds of them. I went back into Haiti with over 400 pounds of children shoes and used mules to bring them up the mountain. Was it because I did it out of obligation? No, God broke my heart when I saw the little girl with the oversized shoes, then He provided the shoes to me, and the means to get them in. We were able to not only provide the children with shoes, but more importantly we shared with them about being clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. God gives us the burden to reach the needy, He provides the clothes, and the monies to ship or bring them in, and in the name of Jesus we distribute them.
“…I was sick and you visited me…” Having spent time in a hospital several times for an extended stay, it is comforting when family or friends come to visit. I am the type of person who gets queasy around blood and hospitals, but out of concern for the person and for the desire to share God’s comfort, I make an effort to reach out to those that are sick. It is not just people in hospitals, or at home who are sick, there are millions that are spiritually sick with a killing disease called sin. This is a sickness that could be helped if we would visit those people and introduce them to the One who has the cure.
“...I was in prison and you came to Me…” We have had many opportunities to reach the MS13 gangs in El Salvador. They are considered some of the most dangerous gangs in the world. We start off by telling them that we traveled over 2000 miles to tell them that we love them, but more importantly that God loves them. In fact He loves them so much that they now have the opportunity to hear His message of love for them. I believe that anytime we tell people about Jesus, we are helping them from being prisoners of sin. We have had opportunities over the many years of ministry in Mexico to see how God has changed many of the prisoner’s lives.
The difference between those that God blesses; and those that He curses on the final day, is based on those that showed the fruit of Jesus in their lives. I cannot emphasis enough that I am not saved by works. I am sure there are many people in cults that do even better works than most of us; but are we being sensitive to God’s heart for people? Mother Teresa said it as well when she said, “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.We will be judged by "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”
Ultimately how we treat others is how Jesus will treat us. All throughout the Scriptures God tells us He will bless those who are generous. “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25) I can testify that God rewards us for giving to “...the least of these.” Proverbs 19:17 tells us, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.” The Scriptures tell us that He will reward us for what we have done, and that the reward is not just in our eternal life, but here as well because God rewards the generous person. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 reinforces this when it says, “…whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
If I told you to go and just take care of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, or the imprisoned, then I am telling you to do works. Rather, just like I had to repent before God to get my eyes off of myself and my own flesh and go to India; to not be a goat who wanted to do things my own way, so too many of us need to do the same, whether it be abroad, or in our community. We need to ask God to break our heart for the things that break His, for His love to be poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit to reach out to others. (Romans 5:5). We need to see that the “Harvest is great, but the laborers are few..,” (Matthew 9:37)and that those who respond to others are responding to Christ.
I watched a video several years ago by K.P. Yohannan, the founder of Gospel for Asia. The words from that video have never left me. He said, “What does it take for us to learn, the call of Christ for us is as the Father has sent Me, so send I you. You are my hands, you are my legs, you are my eyes, you are my ears, you are my tears, you are mine! Go into the world and touch the poor, the needy, the lepers, the dying and the hurting and the ones going to hell and grab them and rescue them. That is the call of Christ. The call of Christ is to die not to live. You must by the grace of God make a decision, that Lord I want approval from You and no one else. I’m telling you, the day is soon coming you will regret and repent, too late will it be over the debased life we spent for ourselves here. The world out there does not know Jesus and our number one priority must be; ‘Lord I love you and out of that I give all to touch the lost world.’”
May we recognize that we are Christ’s ambassadors before others in our homes, church, school, work, and the whole world. We are His hands, and feet to be a blessing to all those we come in contact with. I would urge those who call on the name of Jesus to not only recognize that fact, but to do your best to put it into practice so that on that final day you can hear the words; “Well done, good and faithful servant...Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:24)
May the cry of our heart be the like the old hymn: “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride. Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small, Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” (Isaac Watts) Amen.