It’s so easy today to be engrossed in the busyness of our own affairs that there is always the danger of losing sight of our spiritual calling and duty to our fellowman. In the rat race to make ends meet and our pursuit of “the good life” (defined today as getting the most toys), we forget that real contentment comes from not only obeying God as He directs but also from applying the second great commandment, to love your neighbor. Helping a neighbor where needed can be a sure source of true peace and lifelong happiness.
Deep down the vast majority of us desire to make a difference, but the preoccupation with our own pursuits and interests can stymie that noble intention. This is a mistake. For it is not the one who dies with the most toys who wins. It’s the spiritual character we are building that counts.
Ways to help others
Anyone can seize the opportunity to engage in random acts of kindness and compassion…
The world is full of needy people, and we don’t have to look very far to find someone in need of a helping hand. Who among us is not moved with compassion when we see images of starving children in famine-filled and war-torn countries? Anyone can seize the opportunity to engage in random acts of kindness and compassion, however small a scale, for the good of a neighbor, whether in the far regions of Africa or just down the street. Jesus gave us the parable of the good Samaritan and defined our neighbor as anyone in need.
Helping neighbors in need came home forcefully for me on Sept. 11, 2001--that tragic date forever seared in many North American memories. Here is how it happened.
While reading a classic story to my sixth graders in a small school near Gander, Newfoundland, we were suddenly interrupted by the sounds of jet engines overhead. Next thing I knew, I was informed by one of my colleagues that the World Trade Center had been hit by two passenger airliners and another had crashed into the Pentagon.
Suddenly the routines of our school changed in a moment with the buzz of news reports that these disasters may have been the result of a terrorist attack on our neighbor to the south. All teachers and students quickly gathered into the gymnasium to watch the horrific scenes unfold before our very eyes. Some wept while others held hands and hugged each other for support and comfort.
We also learned that all airports in the United States were shut down, and all incoming international flights to America were being diverted to Canada. Shortly afterwards we were informed that Gander had received no less than 32 international flights with more than 6,000 stranded passengers! The next day many residents in the surrounding area rallied together in support of these stranded people. Five schools were shut down and makeshift shelters were set up. Free hotel rooms were made available and people opened up their homes to welcome anyone who needed a hot meal, a bath and a place to stay.
We were informed that Gander had received no less than 32 international flights with more than 6,000 stranded passengers!
Our school was designated as a supply center for towels, soap, blankets, pillows and a host of other life necessities that poured in quickly. Also free telephone and Internet services were provided for travelers to get in contact with loved ones. Counseling services were set up to assist anyone traumatized by the tragedy. Towns outside of Gander also rushed to help and offered free room and board and volunteered free transportation to and from stores and malls.
For seven days and nights the town of Gander and her surrounding communities opened their arms and hearts to strangers. By the time the last plane took off, these strangers had become friends with bonds that will last a long time.
There is an old saying, “Those who help others, help themselves.” Certainly this held true for us during the events on 9/11. In our attempts to help stranded passengers feel a little more at home in the midst of trouble in their homeland, we brought ourselves together in the spirit of oneness and community.
What prevents our serving when needed?
By the time the last plane took off, these strangers had become friends with bonds that will last a long time.
Sometimes, due to a feeling of prejudicial fear, we hesitate to approach a stranger. The fear of the unknown and the hesitation to get involved can cause a great deal of coldness in the world. This results in a certain degree of timidity—a kind of mind-set of being too afraid to do anything, which can leave a lot of needy souls among us. Had we turned a blind eye to these stranded passengers in Gander during the days that followed Sept. 11, then I’m afraid another tragedy would have occurred far beyond the Twin Towers—the tragedy of indifference and insensitivity.
Is it not incumbent upon all of us to try to break the barriers of indifference and strive to reach out when needed? The Golden Rule that Jesus so eloquently taught in the Sermon on the Mount was “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). It is true that government welfare takes care of many needy. But like a big ship, government social services require a broad ocean to run on. They cannot get into the nooks and crannies of these small but important human needs.
It can often be up to us as neighbors to fill in the gaps, to keep some people from falling through the cracks and provide that personal touch in lending a helping hand. Helping others when the need is there is a great way to fulfill being our “brother’s keeper.” Are we our brother’s keeper? If we have striven to serve others when the need was there, we can confidently answer, “Most certainly, I am.”