Exploring the Biblical meaning of 'Loving Our Neighbors’

Chapter 6

Loving Immigrants, Orphans, and Widows

"We can do no great things ... only small things with great love." – Mother Teresa.


A friend and I had gone into Mexico with gifts for an orphanage in the small town of La Mision, an hour’s drive south of the border below San Diego.

After we’d unloaded the car, one of the staff asked if we’d like to tour the facility. We would. So she took us from building to building, telling us about the orphanage. It housed 80 to 90 young Mexican children, who either had no mothers or fathers or had been left by parents who couldn’t care for them.

We looked at classrooms, dormitories, play areas, and a chapel. At lunchtime we watched all the children file into the dining hall, sit down at several long tables, and, in unison, sing the blessing on their food!

As we toured, my friend asked our escort how the orphanage was supported. "Well," she replied, "When we’re running low on something, we just pray and tell God what we need. Then God tells the people in some church up in the States. And then they bring it to us, like you just did."

My friend looked so incredulous it was hard not to laugh!

Later, as we drove on into Ensenada and then back to San Diego, we asked ourselves: Would I have the faith to live like that?

And, when God’s "still, small voice" speaks to us about helping our "neighbors" in an orphanage, or next door, are we sensitive enough to listen, hear, and obey?


Immigrants, orphans, and widows were the Bible’s largest groups of poor. Today, UNICEF says that over 160,000,000 children worldwide are orphans.

"Orphans ... throughout the world ... live ... largely unnoticed, untended, and uncared for" (Melissa Irwin).


What other words does the Bible use for these "neighbors?"

Orphans are often called "the fatherless."

Immigrants are referred to as "aliens," "foreigners," "migrants," "travelers," "visitors," and "strangers."

Jeremiah 14:8 questions why God had become "as a stranger to us, as one passing through the land who is merely stopping for the night?" Job 5:15 asserts "I have never turned away a stranger but have opened my doors to all." 1 Timothy 5:10 asks "has she been kind to strangers as well as to other Christians?"

"Aliens" and "foreigners" included the Samaritans, whose ancestors were mixed Israelite/Assyrian (2 Kings 17:24-41). In Luke 17:17, Jesus asked "Didn’t I heal ten men? Does only this foreigner [a Samaritan] return to give glory to God?"

"Migrants" may or may not be immigrants. My own family became migrants (not immigrants) for five years when our work took us weekly to new cities in eight states.

"Visitors" can be guests, foreigners, aliens, or strangers. Abraham told the men of Heth "Here I am, a visitor in a foreign land, with no place to bury my wife. Please sell me a piece of ground for this purpose" (Gen. 23:4).


How does God view immigrants, orphans and widows?

The Lord loves and welcomes them. And he firmly expects his children to share his caring outlook.

"He loves foreigners and gives them food and clothing" (Deut. 10:18).

"The Christian who is pure and without fault, from God the Father’s point of view, is the one who takes care of orphans and widows" (James 1:27; also 1 Tim. 5:3-5; Acts 6:1-5).

More Scriptures: Ex. 22:21-24; 23:9; Deut. 10:19; 16:12; 24:18; 24:22; Job 5:15-16; Ps. 68:5; 146:5-9; Prov. 15:25; Jer. 49:11; Hosea 14:3.


The Lord reminded Israel to treat immigrants fairly, since they, too, had been immigrants in Egypt (Lev. 19:34).

God says most immigrants are good: "For the Lord loves good men. He protects the immigrants" (Ps. 146:8-9).

US Justice Department data agree. Daniel Griswold of the conservative Cato Institute says that in ten years of very high illegal immigration, Arizona’s violent-crime rate fell 23%. Property crime was down 28%. The US experienced "the most rapid drop in crime rates in the nation’s history." Griswold asks whether we’ve "vastly overrated" the danger from honest immigrants who come at great risk to support their families and try hard to stay out of trouble.


Immigrants face petty nuisances too. About 1900 my grandfather, himself a Danish immigrant, worked as a "timber cruiser" for a large lumber company, estimating the board-feet of usable timber in large parts of northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

He and his partner once came in to Superior, Wisconsin to outfit for their next trip. They bought supplies on Saturday. On Sunday morning it hit them: "We don’t leave till tomorrow. What are we going to do today?"

There weren’t many choices. No radio or television yet. No ball games scheduled. All stores were closed on Sundays. Finally, desperate, they decided to window-shop.

Many Superior stores were then owned by recently-arrived European immigrants who lived in the rear or upstairs. Gramp and Hanson stopped at the first business, studied the window display, checked the door to make sure the store wasn’t open, and moved on.

As they paused before the next window, the key turned in the first store’s lock. The owner leaned out, beckoned, and in heavily accented English said "Come in, boysss. I vants to show you some’tin."

The proprietor offered them a "wonderful buy." The men talked awhile, thanked him, then left.

They looked at each other. Would that work again? They rattled the next store’s doorknob and walked on a few steps. Sure enough, that owner, too, unlocked the door and promised them a "great bargain." So did the next proprietor, and the next.

A pattern emerged. The "bargain" was usually a watch or an overcoat. The men decided to specialize. One would "buy" the coats, the other the watches. At each store they’d bargain the immigrant owner as low as they could. Then they’d offer him half that.

If he said "no," they’d say "Sorry, goodby," and walk out.

If he said "yes," they’d tell him "Well, it can’t be any good, or you wouldn’t take that!" And then they’d leave!

They’d solved the problem of what to do with their free day.

On Monday, as they left, they remembered some supplies they’d forgotten on Saturday. They entered one of the same stores, this time intending to buy.

The proprietor’s wife parted the curtains at the store’s rear, saw who her customers were, waved, and shouted "GOOD-bye! GOOD-bye!"


What are some Biblical glimpses of orphans’ and widows’ lives?

"We are orphans – our fathers dead, our mothers widowed. We must even pay for water to drink; our fuel is sold to us at the highest of prices. We bow our necks beneath the victors’ feet; unending work is now our lot. We beg for bread. We went into the wilderness to hunt for food, risking death from enemies. Our skin was black from famine. Even aged men are treated with contempt. They take away the young men to grind their grain, and the little children stagger beneath the heavy loads" (Lam. 5:3-6; 5:9-10; 5:12-13.)


"There is no justice for the poor, the widows, and orphans. Yes, it is true that they even rob the widows and fatherless children (Isa. 10:2).


"The wife of one of the seminary students came to Elisha to tell him of her husband’s death. He had owed some money when he died, and now the creditor was demanding it back. If she didn’t pay, he said he would take her two sons as his slaves.

"What shall I do?"

Elisha asked. "How much food do you have in the house?"

"‘Nothing at all, except a jar of olive oil,’ she replied.

"‘Then borrow many pots and pans!’ he instructed. ‘Go into your house with your sons ... Then pour olive oil from your jar into the pots and pans!’

"So she did. Her sons brought the pots and pans to her, and she filled one after another! Soon every container was full to the brim!

"‘Bring me another jar,’ she said to her sons.

"‘There aren’t any more!’ they told her. And then the oil stopped flowing!

"The prophet ... said to her, ‘Go and sell the oil and pay your debt, and there will be enough money left for you and your sons to live on!’" (2 Kings 4:1-7.)


We’ve experienced similar though smaller miracles: extra money appearing in our wallets; extra packages of frozen chicken in the freezer; unrolling twice as much cloth as my wife and daughter had bought to make skirts.


Many scholars think Mary was widowed before Jesus’ ministry began, leaving Jesus, the oldest son, to support her. So, when Jesus faced death, he provided for her:

"Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, Mary, his aunt, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside me, his close friend, he said to her, ‘He is your son.’

"And to me he said, ‘She is your mother!’ And from then on I took her into my home" (John 19:25-27).

More Scriptures: Ruth 2:8-11; Job 24:2-3; 24:9-11; 29:12-16; Acts 9:36-39.


How did Israel "love" immigrants, orphans, and widows?

The methods were varied, practical, and creative.

Creativity can take unique forms. In Orlando I worked with a night-vision engineer who, with two friends, heard about the first proposed "Cannonball Run," a thoroughly unsanctioned New York-to-Los Angeles auto race that inspired a Burt Reynolds movie. They were eager to enter. But they had no car.

They got creative. They called New York "driveaway" companies, which will have your car driven from one city to another. They found a Cadillac scheduled for Los Angeles. Perfect!

They met the car’s owner, and promised him they’d obey all speed limits and drive limited hours each day. (Then they drove a steady 105 mph around the clock.) They didn’t win, thanks to five police stops (one for forgetting to pay for gas in New Mexico) and a wrong LA freeway exit. But their creativity did let them drive the race! (Afterwards they waited several days to deliver the car so the owner wouldn’t become suspicious.)

The Old Testament’s programs for immigrants, orphans, and widows provided creatively (but honestly!) for food, land, and justice.


Immigrants were treated like citizens.

"Do not take advantage of foreigners in your land; do not wrong them. They must be treated like any other citizen; love them as yourself, for remember that you too were foreigners in the land of Egypt" (Lev.19:33-34).

"Justice must be given to migrants and orphans, and you must never accept a widow's garment in pledge of her debt" (Deut. 24:17).

"Distribute the land as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners who live among you with their families. All children born in the land – whether or not their parents are foreigners – are to be considered citizens and have the same rights your own children have. All these immigrants are to be given land" (Ezek. 47: 22-23).

Also read: Deut. 1:14-16; 10:17-19.


Part of the harvest was left for the poor.

"If, when reaping your harvest, you forget to bring in a sheaf from the field, don't go back after it. Leave it for the migrants, orphans, and widows; then the Lord your God will bless and prosper all you do. When you beat the olives from your olive trees, don't go over the boughs twice; leave anything remaining for the migrants, orphans, and widows. It is the same for the grapes in your vineyard; don't glean the vines after they are picked, but leave what's left for those in need" (Deut. 24:19-21).

Also read: Lev. 23:22; 25:2-7.


Israel gave to the poor and included them in special events.

"The Festival of Weeks ... is a time to rejoice before the Lord ... And don't forget to include the local Levites, foreigners, widows, and orphans. Invite them to accompany you to the celebration at the sanctuary.

"Every third year ... you are to give all your tithes to the Levites, migrants, orphans and widows, so that they will be well fed" (Deut. 26:12).

Also read: Deut. 12:12; 12:19; 14:27-29; 16:9-14; 26:1-3; 26:11,13.


How do groups like the Bible’s "immigrants, orphans and widows" fare today?

For many, not well.

Widows and senior citizens? Many feel in desperation that they can’t "make it." Their incomes are fixed and low; but their expenses aren’t. A swimming-pool salesman who’d worked in a grocery store told me he changed jobs "because I saw all these senior citizens buying canned cat food. I knew many of them personally, and knew they didn’t have cats. Cat food was the only meat they could afford."

In the US, the June-July 2012 AARP: The Magazine said that 1 in 4 seniors (over 50) "struggle to afford housing, food, prescription drugs and other essentials."


Immigrants? Even the "land of opportunity," the US (itself a nation of immigrants) doesn’t do well. In a 2009 study, 40% of immigrants had wages stolen by employers. One lady was jailed for merely asking for her pay. Others had savings stolen by police at traffic stops. 77% of women immigrants said their bosses sexually harassed them. Some rapists weren’t arrested because the victims were immigrants.

In August 2012 AP Special Correspondent Helen O’Neill reported that in the first half of that year the US deported 45,000 parents of American-citizen children ("born in the USA") – and forced the children to stay behind, permanently splitting the families. O’Neill says that "behind the statistics are the stories: a crying baby taken from her mother’s arms and handed to social workers as the mother is handcuffed and taken away, her parental rights terminated by a US judge; teenage children watching as parents are dragged from the family home; immigrant parents disappearing into a maze-like detention system where they are routinely locked up hundreds of miles from their homes, separated from their families for months and denied contact with the welfare agencies deciding their childrens’ fate."

"Immigration lawyers say that - despite policy changes – they see families destroyed every day ."


Single mothers? Most earn too little. Their "exes" often fail to pay child support. Several we knew worked two jobs, but still couldn’t take their kids to a doctor. And the mothers’ long hours meant their children were home alone, where they easily got into trouble. Others, facing eviction with their children because their jobs didn’t cover rent, took in boyfriends – who then abused the kids.


Women? Officially, one in every three to four are victims of domestic violence. Many believe the figure’s higher. Sexual assault crimes are dramatically underreported.

"Vanished," by mystery writer Tess Garritsen, claims that each year over 50,000 young US women and children are trafficked into sexual slavery.

Siddharth Kara’s powerful book "Sex Trafficking; Inside the Business of Modern Slavery" says that at least 1,200,000 women worldwide, mostly teenagers, are trafficked into prostitution each year. And that’s conservative.

Trafficking is most widespread in South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, followed in turn by Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and North America. During the Bosnian Wars in the 1990’s, the International Police Task Force (IPTF) and US contractor Dyncorp were accused of being major providers of trafficked women (Kara, p. 144).

Kara explains that women become unwilling sex slaves in five primary ways (pp. 7-9):

1. Deceit, such as the false offer of a job, travel, or income-producing opportunity.

2. Sale by the victim’s family, usually forced by extreme poverty. One of our personal friends knows a teen-aged orphan who was sex-trafficked by her grandmother, but was among the fortunate few who escape.

In a poor part of one country, being a "good daughter" means a girl is expected to enter prostitution to help support her family financially. And the daughters accept that.

3. Abduction.

4. Seduction or romance, coupled with persuading the girl to "migrate to a rich country." She’s sent ahead, but a slave trader or brothel owner meets her.

5. Recruitment by former sex slaves who became allies of the slave owners.

Becoming a sex slave is the last thing most women want. They resist. To break their wills they are drugged; gang-raped; starved; beaten; or tortured by breaking bones, pulling fingernails or teeth, or burning with cigarettes. They’re humiliated in ways like being denied bathrooms until they’ve clearly had accidents. Some yield to very real threats to harm their families. And some who still refuse or try to escape are murdered, often in front of their group.

Life is an unending nightmare they did nothing to deserve. Many become pregnant and are forced to endure painful abortions. If allowed to give birth, their child is often sold into slavery or prostitution. Nearly all get STD’s and/or HIV. Their life span is unknown, but one source told Kara that few live beyond their mid-thirties.


Orphans? Far too many also become victims of sex trafficking. UNICEF says as many as 2,000,000 children worldwide, a higher figure than Kara’s, are trafficked into prostitution yearly.

Anne Jackson saw it first-hand during a trip to Moldova and Russia with Children’s Hope Chest. There, many orphanages can’t care for childen until they’re old enough to live safely on their own. In Moldova they must leave at 15. They’re given money, but not enough to rent a room for a month. They easily fall prey to traffickers.

One morning Anne’s guide took her group to a pleasant restaurant in an attractive neighborhood, then told them "this cafe is the main hub for girls that are trafficked out of Moldova!"

Orphans and girls who have finished 9th grade must find work. But jobs are scarce. The foreigners who own that cafe hire the girls. They are "guaranteed" promotions or transfers to other restaurants. Instead, the girls are drugged, kidnapped, and smuggled to other countries with their identity papers changed – and put to work as prostitutes.

Others are lured through false ads for apartments or "real" jobs. The "interview" is just a chance to kidnap the girls – and often succeeds.

Anne says "Most of these orphans end up kidnapped and working in other countries, making pennies a day for sexual services ... Not knowing how to escape, being violated and told they’re worthless, and that nobody cares, they see no hope – no reason to escape. Some commit suicide ... Moldova is a small country, and 30,000 women and children disappear every year without a trace."

She concludes "This is a subject we must ... stare in the face and say ... this can not happen ... if we know about it ... we’re responsible to do something about it." (Anne’s former blog, Flowerdust.net, April 6-13, 2010).

Can we, as Christians, say we’re "loving Jesus" when we let such things happen?


What can we do? Kara suggests five steps individuals can take (pp. 43-44):

    1. Raise awareness. For example, share his book with others.
    2. Support an anti-trafficking non-profit organization financially.
    3. Don’t wait for problems to appear where you live. Start a community vigilance committee. See Twitter.com@siddharthkara for an instruction packet.
    4. Write letters to your national congressman and senators.
    5. Use social media. Create a short video, a blog, or a full-length documentary.

Should we allow children to stay in orphanages longer? Build dormitories and start businesses to provide older children with safe places to live and work? Develop links with colleges and universities for their education?

One organization with a long-range plan for that kind of action is Beautiful Feet Global Outreach, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Led by Melissa Irwin, BFGO supports orphans in Zimbabwe, and hopes to expand. They admit their plan will take time and money. But they’re committed to it.


Other children? according to the Family Justice Center Alliance, 10,000,000 suffer domestic violence every year in the US alone.

Often there are too few foster homes and too little money to run them well. These kids need people who’ll invest time and love.

In one neighborhood we felt that meant us. We began with three kids (who grew to around a dozen), and gave them all the time, love, and self-worth we could. We took pictures and made photo albums for them. We gave some of them Bibles, plus players with worship CD’s.

On one boy’s birthday, our daughter promised him a brownie if he’d stop by after school. He did – and brought seven friends!

We fixed pancake breakfasts and taught some of the kids to say grace. One four-year-old girl’s first prayer was "Jesus, thank you for eating."

One week, when we were sick and couldn’t fix breakfasts, one boy looked especially disappointed. We asked how many usually got breakfast. Of the nine there that day, one got a school breakfast, but four got nothing unless we fed them!

Some came to our evening family devotions (prayer and worship music). One girl especially loved dancing to the gospel choruses. And one boy sang "Our God is an Awesome God" at the top of his lungs at the school bus stop!

Just before Christmas we held a party. Thirteen kids came, plus four parents. Our decorations included a banner that read "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" Two of the kids asked us, in all seriousness, "Who’s Jesus?"

On one special occasion we saw "a little child lead them." We taught 6-year-old ‘Katie’ the song "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know." She loved it! She turned to our 30-year-old son and said "Let’s go sing that to everybody!" Normally outgoing, Bill was suddenly shy and embarrassed. He protested "But I don’t know those people!" Katie replied: "It’ll be OK, Bill. You’ll see. Come on." So they walked through the neighborhood, knocking on doors. When people answered, Katie told them "We have a song for you!" And the whole neighborhood was serenaded with "Jesus Loves Me!"


What are some blessings and curses the Bible promised those who did or didn’t "love" immigrants, orphans and widows?

If they did? "Then the Lord your God will bless and prosper all you do" (Deut. 24: 19).

God pledged to deliver Israel, give kings to sit on David’s throne, and bring prosperity if the nation would "Be fair-minded. Do what is right! Help those in need of justice! ... Protect the rights of aliens and immigrants, orphans and widows" (Jer. 22:3-4; also read Isa. 15:3-5).


And if not? "They refuse justice to orphans and the rights of the poor. ‘Should I sit back and act as if nothing is going on?’ The Lord God asks. "Shouldn’t I punish a nation such as this? (Jer. 5:26-29.)

More Scriptures: Ex. 22:22-24; Deut. 27:19; Job 6:25-27; 22:4-6; 22:9-11; 24:20-21; 31:16-17; 31:21-23; Ps. 94:4-7; Isa. 1:16-17; 1:23-27; Jer. 5:26-29; 7:3-7; 22:3-5; Ezek. 22:2; 22:7-9; 22:13-16; 22:30-31; Mic. 2:9-10; Zech. 7:8-14; Mal. 3:5; Mark 12:28-40.


Jesus said: "When you did it to these ... you were doing it to me" (Matt. 25:40).

























































































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