As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.
She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42
I, Jesse Rivers, often think about this story above, and how God’s perspective is about being present more than about being productive (though productivity is also important in the right context)! Throughout the biblical narrative we encounter a God who makes Himself present and known by His chosen people, Israel. As we enter the gospels of the New Testament God makes Himself present with not only the Hebrew nation but with Gentiles as well, as He comes in flesh; Emmanuel, Jesus Christ. Then as we get into the book of Acts, just after the gospels, we witness that God desires for His presence to not only be above us (sovereignty) and with us (authority) but also to abide within us, as the Holy Spirit (company).
God’s presence is given to us for guidance, comfort, strength, and encouragement. As He desires for us to best reflect His love, we too are called to give our presence for guidance, comfort, strength, and encouragement. Jesus imparted an amazing reflection of this the passage above. Mary chose to be present with Jesus while He was present with her. Martha focused on details, results, and temporary and finite details. Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the better option… to be present!
In my childhood I lived in foster care. During the summers the foster family had an option to send me away so that they could spend time with their ‘real’ family. While it greatly hurt me, and made me know that I was not really accepted or part of family, I made sure to take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy summer camp.
I remember the first summer at this one camp. I believe it was just my first week there. I was just 12 or 13 years old. One rule that we, the campers, were hearing repeatedly was, “Do NOT kick the volleyball!” Well, early on in the week something happened that upset me greatly. One of the other boy campers was talking to the girl that had caught my attention and that I liked, and she was laughing and flirting with him! Right near me was a volleyball laying on the ground, so in my anger I picked it up and kicked it as hard as I could! POP!! SSSSsssssssss! It exploded and exhaled the air it held! “Don’t kick the volleyball!” resounded in my ears and my heart sunk.
Later that afternoon I was approached by the camp Director, a great man of God named Glenn. He walked up to me, put his arm around my back and on my shoulder, and looked lovingly and gently down at me. “JR (as I am known by many from my childhood), I am really sorry to tell you that we are going to need to ask you to go home for the rest of the week. We need you to take a few days to think about your behavior. But I want you to know that I am waiting for you to come back next week, and you are more than welcome!” The loving presence of Glenn, even while he was having to discipline me, impacted and affected me more than I knew at the time. The next week I did indeed return, and I won the camper of the week award! Glenn was right at the registration table waiting to embrace and welcome me as I arrived!
Many did not want to be around me in my life as a child and adolescent. In the same above situation I would have received such a different response from most people. But Glenn was different! He understood the importance of presence, and his presence truly blessed me and helped me in many ways throughout my teen years. While others may have encouraged that I not be allowed to come back, Glenn welcomed me with genuine, God-given love, and it impacted my life for all of eternity!
Why do I share all of this? Well, in one of our ministries in Guatemala, there is a special young boy, whom we shall refer to as Thomas. Thomas is just 4 or 5 years old and comes from a very hard life situation. His mother left the picture almost immediately and wants nothing to do with him, nor with his father. His father also is not present with Thomas, is heavy handed and impatient when he is present, and much of the time chooses to just leave Thomas with his mother (Thomas’ grandmother). Due to all of this, Thomas has some attention, behavioral, and authority issues which he has to deal with and overcome.
One Saturday several weeks ago, while trying to catch Thomas while he was doing something a bit dangerous, I scooped him up into my arms. His immediate reaction was to grab my nose with his hand and dig his nail into my nose! Needless to say, it hurt and bled a lot! After calming him down and getting him returned to the same area as the rest of the children, I started hearing complaints from some of our volunteers. Many were saying that Thomas should not be allowed to come. My heart hurts that this is often our response in hard situations. I was not and am not in agreement!
Unfortunately, Thomas was not allowed to come back for a few weeks, because his dad and grandmother wouldn’t let him. Fortunately though, after some persuasion and insistence, just a couple of weeks ago Thomas arrived again. He behaved better that I can describe, and I think he really sensed my, and our volunteers’, love for him. His demeanor and behavior have improved drastically. While many wanted to not allow him to return, I remember how Glenn showed me the love of God through discipline, yet with a loving and inviting presence. His invitation to return really impacted me, and I am praying that our invitation to Thomas will have a lasting impact on his life as well.
Much of the most impactful things of my life has been when people have shared their presence with me. Some of the most impactful work of Abogar is to be present with the children. Hearing them, seeing them, loving them, leading them, guiding them, and to give comfort and encouragement may not provide immediate and tangible results, but the way in which we bear the love, light, and presence of Jesus to these children may be the most impactful, eternity changing, and life transforming work of our ministry. May we not be so distracted by details all around that we forget to be the presence of Jesus in the midst of the lives of these precious children!