Called Awake and Fed
—I Kings 19:1-8
Have you ever ran away from a problem? Most of us have encountered challenges that tested our courage and resiliency. Sometimes our problems were so overwhelming, intractable or downright dangerous that the best option was for us to pack our bags, literally or figuratively, and move on to a safer place. During these darkest of times, where was God reaching out to you?
This is the kind of challenge Elijah faced when Jezebel threatened to kill him for his role in the deaths of the prophets of Baal. Elijah probably had time to throw only a few items in a knapsack, hastily give instructions to his family and trusted servants and then run away. In a matter of a few hours Elijah went from respected community leader to refugee in a distant land.
The scripture goes on to tell us that Elijah walked on, deep into the wilderness, and in his loneliness and distress over his problems Elijah wished he would die. Imagine his sense of separation from his home, his family, his friends, from even the basic needs of food and water. It is at a moment of homesickness that Elijah says, "It's too much Lord. Take away my life. I might as well be dead." Worn out by his anxiety, fear and sadness, Elijah falls asleep.
Then a truly amazing thing happens to Elijah. The Lord pursues Elijah, sending an angel to provide sustenance. Elijah is called awake and fed, not once, but twice! God fills Elijah up so that he can go on and sustain the long journey ahead, forty days to Sinai.
Immigration is a topic often in the headlines of our news these days. As United Methodists, our care and commitment to the newcomers in our midst have been longstanding. I am privileged to serve as a board member for Susannah Wesley Community Center, located in Honolulu, Hawaii, a national mission institution of the United Methodist Women. The center was established in 1899 by missionaries who cared deeply for immigrant women and children who were abused, abandoned or orphaned. It was a place where they could find acceptance, safety, shelter, education and compassion.
Susannah Wesley Community Center continues today as a visible symbol of our mission in the community. We have found a renewed and urgent call to focus on the needs of newcomers from the Pacific Islands and Asia, particularly those who come to Hawaii, most commonly as agricultural workers, thinking they have found good employment, only to discover their circumstances are akin to indentured servitude or slavery. We call this crime human trafficking.
Imagine the months and years of separation from family and friends these newcomers experience. Often promised wages that far outstrip what they make at home, these newcomers typically discover that they "owe" much more than they can earn. If they challenge their conditions they are threatened with deportation, prison, or harm to themselves or their families back at home. These newcomers typically don't speak the language or understand the culture let alone the laws that might protect them.
The wonderful and caring staff members of the Susannah Wesley Community Center speak many languages and help newcomers navigate many challenges—legal, physical and mental and health, housing, employment and immigration. Like Elijah's angel, they offer God's love in the form of quality services that will sustain these newcomers for their long journey.
We recognize what it means to be on a long journey facing loneliness and despair. In the face of every "newcomer" is the reflection of ourselves—great grandparents who immigrated, a mother who left an abusive spouse, a friend who stood up for what was right against popular sentiment. In all of our communities and local churches are individuals, families, newcomers who are alone and calling on God to sustain them in the wilderness they face. Each of us can be the living embodiment of God's love and provide the compassion and care that will sustain our brothers and sisters in their long journey.
God, you pursue us in the wilderness and provide us with the sustenance we need to carry on in our journey. Help us recognize those among us who require an angel to provide the tangible gifts of your love and care. Help us overcome our own reticence and respect for privacy and independence so that we really see how to be your angels, acting as you direct, so that we share your sustaining love with all those who are journeying.