I have just returned from a visit to South Africa. It is a very beautiful country enjoying economic stability, which is rare in the continent of Africa. The people are very friendly and welcoming. I spent the first few days near Durban and visited a small project, run by Christians, which provides care for about 30 AIDS orphans. The children who live in the project have lost both their parents through HIV/AIDS.
It is estimated that there are 1.5 million such children in South Africa alone. Many orphan children are being looked after in the extended family, by grandparents. So many parents have died, however, that some families have found it impossible to cope and, so, projects have been established to look after the children. The social and economic cost of HIV/AIDS is very great. The orphans’ parents were the main wage earners and the grandparents struggle to find the money to bring up the children.
It was a privilege to meet the South African house parents, who are caring for these children, and the doctor and his wife, who established the project and raise the finance need to sustain it. The children have a good home and are going to school. They have experienced great sadness at a young age but are being given a good foundation for their future lives. They are growing up in a stable and loving environment.
God has a very special love for widows and orphans. He watches over and sustains the fatherless and the widow. Christians, who know Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour, are also committed to living out their faith. The letter of James says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”
The children living in the project are experiencing the love of God through those who care for them. They know that they are valued and that they are not on their own. They are being helped to cope with their sadness and are being equipped to face the future. Some of them have already understood God’s love for them in Jesus. They know that God is their heavenly Father and will always be with them. He will never forsake them or fail them. It is a wonderful thing to know such love and to know that our heavenly Father can bring us through the deepest sadness and give us hope for the future.
In the book of Proverbs in the Bible we read, “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant country.” These words came to my mind as I watched the 33 miners in Chile being brought safely up from their underground prison. Very little of the news we hear and see each day is good news. The news is overwhelmingly bad. But here was a good news story and it was a privilege to see pictures of this remarkable rescue. It made me thankful to God for his goodness to these men and their families.
The men have wonderfully been delivered from what seemed like certain death. An international rescue operation has succeeded in a much shorter time than had been anticipated. Human skill and technologically advanced equipment provided a way of escape. In our world some human beings do evil things and cause great suffering to other people. It was so encouraging to see the great potential for good when people use their God-given talents so effectively.
It was refreshing to hear the Chilean leaders and the miners expressing their thankfulness to God for the successful rescue of the men. One of the chaplains said their prayers had been answered. He also said that some of the men had had an encounter with God while they were in the depths of the earth and had been conscious of the presence of Jesus with them.
Times of crisis sometimes drive people away from God, but they can also draw us nearer to him. Facing imminent death raises big questions. We are all very vulnerable and are hearts can be gripped by fear. At such times our faith is tested. The best thing we can do is to come to God and ask for his help. In Jesus Christ he promises a future and a hope.
The Chilean miners were ordinary men doing a very dangerous job. They and their loved ones, the Chilean nation and people all round the world prayed to the living God for their deliverance and he graciously answered their prayers. It may be that you, too, are facing a crisis in your life. The words of David in Psalm 34 are a real encouragement to us all, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from my fears. This poor many called, and the Lord heard him, he saved him out of all his troubles.”
Last weekend my wife and I picked the last of the apples from the trees in our garden. It has been a good year for fruit. We have enjoyed cherries, plums, pears and apples in abundance. It reminded us of the fruitfulness of planet earth. Our little planet is unique. It is green and well watered and has a staggering abundance of life; animals, birds, fish, plants and trees abound. Despite the best efforts of space exploration very little signs of life have been found anywhere else.
We were conscious, too, that not everyone on earth enjoys the same abundance we do. In some places there have been droughts and the harvest has been poor. In other places, like Pakistan, the floods have destroyed the fields and the crops. The people have not only lost their homes but also the food to supply their needs for the coming year. They need help from those of us who have so much.
In our country we are used to shopping in supermarkets which offer fine products from all over the world. The choice is sometimes bewildering as we struggle to find where the things we want in the endless aisles. A stream of shoppers leaves the supermarket with trolleys overflowing with good things.
Yet, sometimes, we can be very ungrateful. We take for granted what we have and assume it is our right. We lose sight of the great privilege we have in a world where most people struggle to survive. We continue to accumulate possessions and our desires may have no limit.
When Moses was preparing the Israelites to enter Canaan, after wandering for 40 years in the desert, he gave them a warning. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”
These words speak to us today. Some people proudly profess their atheism but many more live as if there is no God. As we enjoy the many good things God has blessed us with it is so important to remember him and to say “Thank you!”
Engineers drilling to reach the 33 trapped miners in Chile say the men may soon be rescued. The rescue operation has gone much better than had been anticipated. The miners have been trapped underground for 2 months, longer than any other group. The process of bringing the men to the surface will be difficult and dangerous.
The trapped miners must have experienced many emotions. They were not discovered until 17 days after the rock fall. They had to face a seemingly certain death in the depths of the earth. Then contact was made and their hopes were raised, but the rescue operation would be long and difficult. Now, it seems, their ordeal is almost over and their hopes are high. The rescue operation looks as if it will be a great success. The rescue team and people all around the world will rejoice when the miners are reunited with their families again.
Jesus Christ came into this world to accomplish the greatest rescue in history. All of us struggle with our sinful hearts. Every day we break God’s commands. We are responsible for our actions and one day will stand before him to be judged. All of us have sinned and have fallen short of what God requires. Our sins separate us from God and have eternal consequences. We need someone to intervene and help us.
Jesus came to be the Saviour of needy people like us. He is the Mediator between God and us. One hymn writer says, ”Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.” Jesus looked with compassion on us and, at great cost to himself, paid the price of our sins by his death on the Cross.
When the rock fall happened, the miners in Chile knew they were in big trouble. Many people, it seems, don’t realise their need to be rescued by Jesus. We can live with little thought for the future and simply assume that all will be well. But there are times when we realise the sinfulness of our own hearts and the seriousness of our situation. We don’t have the power to change what we have done or to change our hearts. But in the Lord Jesus there is real hope. In him we can find a new beginning, forgiveness for our sins, peace with God and a bright hope for the future.