Update from Jonathan’s House for Orphans – Central African Republic
Every few years, the local African church near Jonathan’s House in the Central African Republic will ask me to preach a sermon. I suppose that they think I’ll have something intelligent to say because I travelled so far to get there. Little do they know, I’m still Carter. In Africa, I’m just Carter far from home. There’s not going to be anything brilliant coming out of my mouth, but I try. I’ve learned that the story is God’s story, not mine. Speaking engagements go just fine if I tell His story.
When I do preach in CAR, I usually quote James 1:27. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. Since I’m painfully unqualified to speak about keeping oneself from being polluted by the world, I’ll comment on the first half of the verse.
James 1:27 refers to pure and undefiled religion as caring for orphans and widows. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? It’s not about finding the “best” denomination, the style of Sunday morning worship, the only “correct” translation of the Bible, a church building, or even your favorite pastor. Pure and undefiled religion seems to be done out in the trenches where the needs are, rather than in the comfort of the sanctuary.
When the church pews were removed from my local church’s sanctuary for reupholstering several years ago, I advocated for one church service in the sanctuary while we all sat on the floor, just as the followers of Jesus would have done. I probably also suggested turning off the air conditioning and not using the organ or microphones. I wanted to eliminate everything comfortable so we could just be alone with Jesus. Without conditions. Have these thoughts ever crept into your head? “Jesus, I’ll follow you IF it’s safe. IF it’s comfortable. IF it’s convenient. If my neighbors and family don’t thing I’m strange. IF I have the time. IF I have the money.” The list goes on and on.
My worship suggestion probably wasn’t physically practical for an aging congregation and it failed to gain any traction. However, my point was that we could all use a refreshing return to what’s really important. Pure and undefiled religion isn’t about safety, comfort, or convenience. Jesus didn’t seek these things. He seemed to seek the opposite, and He was willing to sacrifice all of these things in the pursuit of service in His Father’s name. He sought time with those who needed healing, both physically and spiritually, regardless of cost or consequence. He endured hardships and exposed himself to great danger so that he could care for “the least of these”.
If you are looking for pure and undefiled religion, I think there is great value in the worship, support, encouragement, fellowship, and learning opportunities that happen within the church. These things are vital for spiritual development and the furtherance of mission work around the world. However, I believe that the wisdom of James should be remembered. The religion that Jesus practiced was filled with action that took place outside of the walls of the church. What better example for us to follow than the life of Jesus?
But only with orphans and widows? I doubt it.
Only in Africa? Definitely not.
Wherever God shows you the needs of the suffering? Probably.