Who is my neighbor?

This discussion was shared at our first 2014 team meeting on February 10.

One of the most common challenges you may face in your desire to do international missions is questioning why you should spend $2,000 to go all the way to the Dominican Republic when there are many who are poor, sick, and hurting right here in the United States. We know Jesus tells us the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. So the real crux is determining who our neighbor is—this isn’t a new question. Jesus was asked this in Luke 10:25-37 (NIV).

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“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.”

I’ve been reading The Hole in the Gospel by Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision. In discussing who our neighbor is he cites three things that have defined who we call our neighbors—awareness, access, and ability.

Awareness: Do you know about people in need in Africa, India, or the Dominican Republic? For so long there was little way to get information to the masses. In 1950, Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, brought back 16mm films documenting the devastation caused by the war in Korea. He went church to church to show this, and it shocked people. Today, we have live feeds to places hit by violence like Egypt or Syria or devastated by natural disasters like the Philippines or Indonesia.

Access: Even 150 years ago it took months to get to the west coast, but today we can reach the other side of the world in under 24 hours. Access to even the most remote areas is no longer the challenge it once was.

Ability: Organizations like GO Ministries have given each of us the ability to participate. They and many others have helped us overcome the barriers of understanding the complex relationship between poverty, health, culture, and economics. They have implemented effective and sustainable strategies to allow each of us to participate in the fight against poverty anywhere in the world.

So now let’s look again at the question of “Who is my neighbor?” It’s no longer the single mother living next door to us, the homeless father that you walked by on the way here, or the orphan who is looking for a foster family. It’s also the mother in La Mosca, the father in Hato del Yaque, and the malnourished child who can’t go to school in Santiago. God wants you to love them the same as you would anyone.

With your interest in joining the trip this year, you have overcome a lot of the barriers to loving your neighbor as yourself—you are aware of the problems, you have access, and we have the ability to participate. Jesus COMMANDS us to love one another.

QUESTION: What are the barriers still preventing you from truly knowing that someone hurting in the Dominican Republic is just as much your neighbor as the person that is sitting next to your right now?