Being Obedient

Leviticus 19:33-34 – “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God”.

Matthew 25: 34- 46 – “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

My ministry is changing direction. And not because I want to, but because of God’s strong call to dedicate myself full time to minister among imprisoned immigrants. The path to this ministry had very unassuming beginnings: five years ago I received a call from a mother who lives in Brazil. The woman’s son had lived in the United States for five years, during which time they only communicated by phone. That mother called me asking for help, for her son had been arrested and none of his undocumented friends could visit him. After finding him in a Worcester prison, I went to visit him. The guard took me to a small room where the lawyers usually meet with their clients, and so I waited for the young man. Though I had never met him, he walked through the door of that little room in tears. “Why are you crying?” I asked him. “I’m crying with joy because God is good”, he told me. “I was praying, asking God to send somebody to pray with me and talk to me in Portuguese. When the speakers announced that a pastor was here to visit me. I knew, on that moment, that God had answered my prayer”, he said to me.

I visited that young man a couple of times. When he was transferred to the Plymouth County Correctional Facility, we still continued out meetings. It was at that moment I realized that other Brazilians were facing a similar problem, and I started to wonder how I could reach them. I talked to the facility’s chaplain asking him how I could help these Brazilians. He said he needed someone to study the Bible with them because no one of his staff speaks Portuguese. The inmates and I started to do Bible studies twice a month, and eventually weekly. One year later, I started the same program at the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office. Currently, I lead 4 groups of Bible studies in those facilities. In the beginning, only Brazilians attended, but now I meet with immigrants from a variety of countries, from Latin America, Caribbean, Africa, Middle East, Asia, and Europe.

 

1.      The Bible

What I have been doing is not a personal ministry. It is simply a Christian Ministry. In other words, through my life, each of you who is a Christian, is doing what the Bible evidently states is God’s desire. We can see it clearly in several passages, but I chose only two, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. Here is what we learn:

a.       Leviticus teaches us about two kinds of actions: actions that we must perform, and actions from which we must refrain. First, we should not mistreat an alien. And I think all of you agree with me that this is easy to understand, isn’t it? Nobody should be mistreated in any condition. But, mistreatment doesn’t only mean treating others poorly. Indifference also is mistreatment. That’s why Leviticus also teaches us to act positively, treating aliens as if they were your own native-born. As if your house was their house, and your children’s school is their children’s school, as your church was their church, and as if their needs were your own. They should be loved as we love ourselves.

b.      Matthew teaches us a way to please Jesus. I know there are a lot of people trying to please Jesus through good manners, singing worship songs, fasting, etc. But here we find a clear way to please Jesus: doing good things in favor of those who are in need. And Matthew is very specific about who are those in need.  When we compare Jesus’ time with our own, those in need are still here waiting for the servants of Jesus to reach out to them. Where are the servants of Jesus eager to please Him?

c.       There is a common ground between those passages. Leviticus finishes with this statement: I am the LORD your God. Matthew starts his teaching saying: Then the King will say… The words LORD and KING mean that what was written is not a choice we have. It’s not an option for those who declare themselves Children of God or Christians. The words Lord and King mean that these teachings are commandments that must be obeyed.

Brothers and sisters: regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, the economic pressures, or even our personal opinion regarding immigrants, the Bible is crystal clear: care for the needy, the poor, and the oppressed. God has given you and me an opportunity to care for these people in our own prisons. We need not travel far to reach them. Just look at your own backyard. All I challenge you to do is be obedient, in the same way I’m trying to obey.  Won’t you join me in this journey? Be my partner, helping this ministry grow, prosper and reach the nations one inmate at a time.

 

 

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