A couple of months ago, I wrote about the challenges of racism in the context of World Concern’s work globally. Here in the US, the issue of race dominates our headlines almost daily. We also bring our own background and experiences to the story. But as is clear from scripture, Christ calls His followers to an entirely different standard—the standard of how we ‘see’ those different to us.
But race is part of a wider issue. At its heart, it is about how we see ‘the other’ – neighbor, passer-by, enemy.
At World Concern, how we see ‘the other’ is core to our transformational work.
This last weekend I was challenged by something I read in the Bible, in the Book of John, chapter 9. It’s the story of the encounter with the man who was blind from birth. In brief, Jesus and his disciples saw this individual, but the narrative has a blunt beginning—the disciples remark, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” No soft entry, no introduction; rather “whose fault is this?” Don’t we do this all the time? We see someone, perhaps of different nationality, perhaps with a disability, perhaps homeless, and we immediately categorize the person. “They are like this because…” We put them in a category to define them, to perhaps stigmatize, perhaps blame.
I am indebted to Paul Miller for his insight into this passage from his book Love Walked Among Us:
“The disciples see a blind man; Jesus sees a man who happens to be blind. The disciples see an item for debate; Jesus sees a person, a human being like himself. They see a sin, the effect of man’s work; Jesus sees need, the potential for God’s work. The disciples see a completed tragedy and wonder who the villain was; Jesus sees a story half-told, with the best yet to come.”
When we look at someone, do we see a problem, a category, or a person? We put people in boxes to control our own discomfort, and almost certainly to set ourselves at a distance from them.
In our work, we have this problem, but we try to recognize and remedy it when it happens. We often talk about “beneficiaries” “recipients” or “the poor.” Worst, as the world becomes more data driven, we reduce people to a number.
But this innocuous encounter tells a different story. The disciples saw a blind man; Jesus saw a man, who happened to be blind. The difference is subtle but ultimately transformative; it humanizes the ‘other’ and opens up the door to compassion and kindness.
We work in communities of very diverse needs. Are they poor? Often, yes. Are they non-literate? Maybe. But fundamentally, who do we see, as in really see? It may be easier to categorize, maybe even an automatic reaction; but we try to see the individual who, regardless of what I think or what the world tells me, is made absolutely in the image of God.
Seeing ‘the other’ is core to what we, as the people of Christian faith, are called to. It is what we, as World Concern, are called to. In partnering with us and being part of our story, we invite you into this same journey.