When we are in debt

Christmas has passed, the decorations have been taken down and life is returning to normal. Yet for many people living in Britain January is a worrying month because the bills for Christmas will soon arrive. Millions of people are entering 2018 with a debt hanging over them because they overspent during the festive period. One advice line estimates that 7.9 million people are likely to fall behind with their finances in January because of credit card debt incurred over Christmas.

Being in debt is oppressive. I remember visiting a man who was in debt. He had been injured in a car accident and had lost his job. The debts had begun to accumulate and he was unable to pay them. The bank had refused to increase his overdraft and the red letters, with their demands and threats, were arriving regularly. He no longer opened letters from the companies to which he owed money. Debt had paralysed him and filled him with fear for the future. He felt very alone and had seriously considered ending his life.

When we are in debt we need to seek help. I was able to come alongside the man and to work out with him ways to begin to address his debts. In time, all his debts were cleared and he was able to move to a new flat. A great burden had been lifted from him and he was able to enjoy life again. Organisations like Christians Against Poverty offer practical help to people overwhelmed by debt enabling them to manage their repayments and, in time, to be debt-free.

When I visited the man I was also able to pray with him and to ask God to help him. God is just and is particularly concerned for the poor and for widows and orphans. He sees the oppression of the poor and vulnerable through immorally high interest rates and he will call such lenders to account. God also provides for us in our need. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This petition is not only for our food but for all our daily needs. God is the One who gives us all good gifts. If you are overwhelmed by debt, ask God to help you. In Psalm 34 the Psalmist says, “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles.”

Love overcomes evil!

The terrorists who attacked the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, killed 28 people from 18 countries. During the 15-hour siege, special forces from Burkina Faso and France killed the 4 terrorists and freed 156 hostages. The hotel was specifically targeted because it is a place where foreigners are known to meet.

One of the people killed in the attack was an American missionary, Mike Riddering, who served with the domestic violence organisation Sheltering Wings. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. Mike, and his wife, Amy, have 4 children and have been involved in running orphanages and schools in Burkina Faso. There are more than 500,000 orphans in the country and 1 in 5 children die before they are 5 years old. They also ran programmes providing food and clean water.

After hearing of Mike’s death, Amy wrote a tribute to him, “Heaven has gained a warrior! I know God has a purpose in all things, but sometimes it is a complete mystery to me. My best friend, partner in crime and love of my life. The best husband ever. An amazing father to his children and a papa to everyone. My heart is so heavy and I am having trouble believing he is gone. Mike was an example in the way he lived and loved. God be glorified!

On the same day as the terrorist attack, an Australian missionary doctor, Dr Ken Elliot, and his wife, Jocelyn, were kidnapped by terrorists in northern Burkina Faso and taken to Mali. Ken, who is 80, and Jocelyn have lived in Burkina Faso since 1972 and opened a hospital in Djibo. Ken helped to build the hospital with his own hands. It is the only hospital serving that region and Ken is the only surgeon, performing 150 operations each month. Ken and Jocelyn have dedicated their lives to serving the people of Burkina Faso and have saved many lives and brought hope to many people.

Jesus is the inspiration for everything that Mike and Amy and Ken and Jocelyn have done. Because they have experienced his love for them they have gladly dedicated their lives to loving and serving the people of Burkina Faso. They know for certain that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and whoever believes in him will live, even though they die. Their greatest desire is that the people amongst whom they have lived, and even their enemies, might also experience the amazing love of Jesus.

Putting austerity into perspective

In the recent elections in the UK, France and Greece, large numbers of people have voted against the austerity measures being adopted by their governments. These measures include higher taxes and spending cuts, which will reduce the level of public services. People will need to work longer before retiring and public sector wages and pensions are being reduced. The lives of many people are being affected and, so, it is no wonder that they are not happy.

The reason austerity is necessary is that for many years governments have spent more money than they received in taxes. The financial crisis in the world has highlighted this problem, so that, now, some governments are no longer able to borrow the money they need. Some countries, such as Greece, are facing bankruptcy. In the past people have benefited from their government’s over-spending, but now the time has come when the debts must be repaid. The election results suggest that many people have unrealistic expectations.

Many of us who live in Western Europe enjoy a level of affluence millions of people in the world can only dream about. Some Christian friends of mine have set up a project in South Africa to care for children who have become orphans because of HIV/AIDS. In 2009 it was estimated that 5.6 million people in South Africa were living with HIV and AIDS and that in the same year more than 300,000 had died from AIDS-related causes. Young adults aged 15-49 have been particularly affected. It is estimated that there are nearly 2 million orphan children, who have lost one or both of their parents through AIDS. The care of these orphans has been taken on by grandparents and they struggle to cope physically and financially.

When I visited the project I saw the houses where some orphans are being cared for and also visited a feeding programme run in a local church. Children, who live with their grandparents, come after school on 3 days a week to the church where a good meal has been prepared for them. These meals are the only substantial meals the children eat each week. These children face many big problems, but were smiling and thankful. I came away from the project humbled and challenged by these children and by those who are caring for them. I have so much, but do I really appreciate it and do I thank God for it? Even in “austerity” we still have so much.