Caring for The Needy Ones (November/ December 2007)
Today, in the Presbyterian Church *(*USA*)* there are signs that fervent
concern for missions is once again returning. Likewise multi-cultural
churches are encouraged and they are an important means of renewing the
church because of the ardent faith of many Christian ethnic groups. Included
among those Presbyterians who are concerned with both missions and
multi-cultural churches, the *e*ditors of Horizons magazine have produced a
new issue that is strong on the kind of missions Presbyterians should and
can support. In many ways, with some amount of caution, this issue can be
commended to Presbyterian readers.
The Arkansas Rice Depot and a little boy’s prayer
Some women, mothers, wonderfully care for their children. Some women
wonderfully tend other children, reaching out to the needy ones in their
community and beyond. Using such images of tenderness, care and concern, the
*e*ditors of Horizons, the Presbyterian Women’s magazine, focus on women and
children in their latest edition.
The article, ‘A Miracle in Progress,” by Anna H. Bedford*, *in this Nov/Dec
issue of Presbyterian Women’s Horizons*, *sparkles with goodness.
The author tells the story of the Arkansas Rice Depot, a faith based ‘food
distribution program” in Little Rock, and the teachers, nurses and school
administrators who care for children in motherly ways. One particular woman,
a school nurse, together with the Arkansas Rice Depot devised a plan to give
poor students backpacks filled with nourishing food for those times when
they would be alone and generally caring for themselves. The program also
includes providing such children with soap, combs and towels.
One of the special parts of this article is a side story written by Laura
Rhea, CEO of the Arkansas Rice Depot. She tells the story of a little boy
whose mother was alone and destitute. After all the *t*hanksgiving dinners
at the Arkansas Rice Depot had been given away someone brought a late gift
of all that was needed for *t*hanksgiving including the turkey. It was given
to the little boy’s family. The author writes:
The counselor came by and picked up the boxes that contained everything to
cook a Thanksgiving turkey dinner, complete with pumpkin pie. When she
delivered the boxes, the little boy started jumping up and down with
excitement! She asked, ‘What is in the box that causes you such joy?” He
said, ‘Last night, I prayed for a turkey!”
Finding out what others really need
Another important article in this issue is ‘Together in Congo,” by Cheri
Harper. This is the story of Harper’s visit to the Democratic Republic of
the Congo and her experience, with several other visiting women, in a clinic
in the village of Tshikaji. Harper had the wonderful experience of visiting
two new mothers and giving them gifts of a layette from Presbyterian Women
in the *S*tates. She writes:
In that moment, as I got to hold that tiny Congolese baby and look into the
eyes of its mother, I was able to communicate the message that in Christ,
God has made us all members of one household. Because of what Christ has
done, we are all children of God, all sisters and brothers with one another.
One of the very important points of the article is to emphasize that
Presbyterian Women have a new way of looking at mission. They intend to make
sure they give what is truly needed to those to whom they minister. For
instance, while many Presbyterian Women have sent rolled bandages for
mission use, the women in this area of the Congo instead need sheets. Harper
explains that in some cases the Congolese women have even sewed the bandages
together to make sheets.
Caring for storm tossed people
Another very heart warming article is ‘Project Homecoming,” by Lisa Lani
Easterling. This article, about the rebuilding of homes in the New Orleans
area, focuses on the work being done by the combined ministries of Project
Homecoming, Hosanna Industries and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
A side article provides information for volunteering. The description
includes the kinds of workers needed, as well as the various goods that can
be purchased and the amount of money each item costs.
These articles are clearly about service in the name of Jesus Christ. Since
we are made new in Jesus Christ we are called to live out our faith in
service to others. ‘For we are His workmanship*, *created in Christ Jesus
for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them
(Eph 2:10).” ‘Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory
of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave himself for us to redeem
us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for his own
possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:13-14).”
The grace of Jesus Christ to the needy
The above articles are practical examples of living out the Christian faith.
There are other articles in this issue that tend to blend theological and
religious issues with the practicality of Christian living. One of the main
articles is about Mary the mother of Jesus. It is, of course, also about
The article is ‘There’s Something About Mary,” by Kathleen Long Bostrom.
Many are interested in and writing about Mary the mother of Jesus. It is an
important topic for a Christian woman’s magazine. Still I was troubled by
some of the author’s comments*, *such as:
Others question her [Mary’s] premarital sexual status with opinions on both
sides of the debatewas she or was she not?
No matter the differing theological opinions, one thing is agreed: there was
something about Marysome reason God chose this unknown, young woman to be
the mother of the Only Begotten Son, the Beloved, the Messiah and Savior of
the world. However you choose to describe Mary’s role in the whole,
incarnational entanglement, Christians believe that God chose Mary to be
mother, mom, ma, mama. (8)
I believe the basic underlying theme of this article causes some problems.
To repeat the quote by Bostrom, ‘there was something about Marysome reason
God chose this unknown, young woman to be the mother of the Only Begotten
Son ” This thought sets the whole article on edge.
We are told in Ephesians that we were chosen in Christ ‘before the
foundation of the world. (1:4)” So believers are all chosen by the Lord.
But on what basis? Certainly not because of our own goodness or some useful
quality that God sees in us, but out of God’s love for us. ‘But God
demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” Also in Deuteronomy God tells the
Israelites that he has chosen them because of his love for them. (Deut 4:37;
7:7) We are all needy, but we have been favored by the love of Christ.
So God chooses, and then by the Holy Spirit and his holy word, shapes and
molds and forms us into the image of his Son. (Romans 8:29) So it is not
simply that Mary was shaping Jesus, in a greater way Jesus was molding and
shaping Mary. And the story must ultimately be about Jesus and his work in
our lives. The story is after all about the great mercy and favor God has
granted to Mary*, *and she says so in her wonderful Magnificat. ‘For the
Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is his name (Luke 1:49).”
The story Bostrom tells ends with Jesus on the cross providing another son,
the apostle John, to care for his mother. And then he dies. The author ends
her account with the words:
You raised a fine son, Mary. God sure knew what God was doing when he picked
you to be Jesus’ mom. Nobody can argue that. (10)
But God ends the story differently. The risen Jesus appears to his disciples
over a forty day period before returning to his Father. At one point he
tells them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again
from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins
would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from
Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46-48)” A despairing
Mary found joy in her son as the risen Lord.
Is a snow flake a Mandala?
This issue of Horizons as usual features an additional ‘Bible Study
Resource.” This one focuses on the art work in the Horizons Bible Study,
‘Above and Beyond: Hearing God’s Calling Jonah and Ruth.” The artist for
the Bible study is Fiona King  . Her pictures are beautiful. They are
circular and filled with pictures from the two Bible stories, for instance
sheaves of grain and fish.
The Editors of Horizons have called King’s art mandalas because they are
circular and filled with pictures. The author of this particular Bible study
resource also names flowers and snowflakes mandalas. And focusing on
mandalas, she has done something a bit different.
The author has given the readers a mandala to color and a blank one to fill
in while meditating on the Bible story including a question about the story.
Her instructions are specific. The instructions for coloring the mandala
are, ‘Mandalas usually move from the center to the outer edges. Keep this in
mind as you develop your color scheme.”
For drawing in the blank one the author suggests that mandalas can be used
as tools for ‘reflection and prayer,” then she writes:
Express your thoughts and feelings about this question creatively through
your mandala. Start by placing your pen or pencil in the center of the
circle. Take up to twenty minutes to draw shapes within the mandala. Try not
to lift your pen or pencil from the paper, but simply let it travel around
Using objects such as mandalas, in this way, is far different from seeing
the beautiful pictures that King has drawn, or seeing and delighting in
snowflakes or shells or flowers, which, in this resource, are equated with
The author has pointed out that the mandala has its roots in ‘Eastern
And it is important for Presbyterian women using this kind of tool to know
that mandalas are deeply rooted in esoteric Tantra, a practice named the
thunderbolt vehicle. It is a Hindu and Buddhist technique for quickly
reaching enlightenment. In Eastern mandalas there are often gods or
goddesses at the center of a mandala. In the more Western version, the
usually unnamed and often un-pictured Self with a capital ‘S” is at the
Susanne F. Fincher  , using Jungian concepts*, *explains, ‘The mandalas
you draw or color communicate information between the Self and your ego.”
Fincher describes this Self as ‘a spark of the life force that dwells
everywhere in all things.”1
So if one starts in the center of a true mandala working outward, one either
starts with the pantheism of the East, manifested in the many gods and
goddesses, or one starts with the Self*, *which also turns out to be
The question the person drawing the mandala is supposedto be asking herself
is ‘what would the church and the world look like if Christians learned the
lessons God is trying to teach Jonah? As Carol M. Bechtel, author of the
Bible study*, *puts it*, *’What would life look like if we left it up to God
to decide who is in’ and who is out’?” Well*, *should we really look for
that answer by drawing inside of a mandala seeking an inner revelation*, *or
do we find that answer in the pages of Scripture?
1, Susanne F. Fincher, Coloring Mandalas 1: For Insight, Healing, and
Self-Expression (Boston: Shambhala 2000), 9