James 1:27–you can probably quote it at this point. “Take care of the widows and the orphans in their affliction and keep yourself unstained from the world.” In Spring of 2010, that verse became more alive to me than it ever had. I’ll start by saying that having grown up in small town East Texas, I didn’t know how to live out that calling. It wasn’t easy for me to see the orphaned child or hurting widow because where I’m from, the family unit is everything and not easily broken. Children were taken care of, and almost all of the elderly couples in my church and community were still living and happily married. Two events occurred, however, that made me realize the heaviness and depth of this verse.
In January of 2010, my dad and I had the incredible opportunity to journey to India. I was 15 at the time, and while this wasn’t my first time out of the country, it was most certainly my first time half way around the world. We boarded a plane at DFW, flew for 13 hours to Germany, had a 2 hour layover, and flew another 13 to Calcutta, India. (I will tell you firsthand that spending a full day in an airplane is probably not something you want to put on your bucket list.) The moment my feet hit the ground in India, I knew that this was going to be something that was indescribable. The smells, the sounds, the faces–all of them were so unfamiliar. For whatever reason, this didn’t scare me, but rather excited me. I was seeing a part of the world that was the furthest thing from what I knew, but still created by the same God who formed a life for me in little ol’ east Texas. That was mind-blowing. To make a very long, detailed, and incredible story shorter than I would like, we spent two weeks leading a youth conference, feeding and playing with orphaned children, and loving on a leper community. Also unreal, right? For me, though, the most memorable of all of these things was traveling to the most outer parts of India and experiencing the joy of many, many orphans who, by the grace of God, were rescued from their loneliness.
In our time there, we got to visit 3 or 4 orphanages and love on a few hundred children. I had the opportunity to hug them, tell them a Bible story, play games with them, and literally put food on their plates. I remember in those moments being overwhelmed with the fact that I was in India, literally feeding the orphans–I was living and breathing James 1:27. I cannot describe to you just how humbling that was. The Lord so graciously gave me a life changing opportunity and used me as a vessel to very practically be His hands and feet; to be His mouth, His arms, His heart. It still makes my eyes water.
Quickly following this life-changing adventure, March of 2010 also brought about a life-altering experience. It was my 16th birthday, I was in Dallas, Texas, and I remember that it was so sunny and beautiful out–what you would imagine a spring day in northeast Texas to be. The small details of where I was or who I was with are not important, but midday, I found out that my youth pastor, Bob, had been killed in a one-man motorcycle accident. I can’t explain the grief or tragedy that was felt in those moments, and honestly I don’t want to, but what I can tell you is that he left behind a young, beautiful wife, and three precious children. The days following up until the funeral are all a blur. My dad is the pastor of our church, so I know that much of our time was spent with Courtney and her babies, trying to figure out how to navigate something that was so far from what we all could have ever imagined. The day of the funeral, I remember watching Courtney stumble into our sanctuary wearing Bob’s jacket, not able to look at the front of the church where her husband was. I remember her oldest daughter, EmmaLeigh, fully understanding that her daddy was gone. I remember feeling angry that my friend was now a widow, hurting in a way that I could never understand. This was it. This, too, was James 1:27 in real life, but in these moments I was so far from overjoyed or humbled by this experience. There was my friend, a new widow suffering so much affliction and pain. We spent the next few weeks ministering to that sweet family in a way that I had never experienced. In my sixteen year old brain, widows were supposed to be 95, not my 25 year old youth pastor and friend. I didn’t know how to make sense of any of it, but I fully believe that the Lord provided all of us with a grace that is inexpressible, and that is humbling.
In three short months, I was able to experience James 1:27 in ways that I never would have thought. What I know to be true, though, is that even having seen the effects of sin through more orphans than I could name and the death of someone very dear, the Lord is Sovereign. I can’t fix the orphan crisis, I can’t stop death, and the Lord doesn’t expect either of these things from me. They are insurmountable tasks. What I can do, though, is be a vessel of His abounding love.
I tell these stories not only to share personal experiences of how I’ve seen James 1:27 play out in my life, but to tell you that the Lord has given abundant opportunity for you to do the same. If you feel the Lord tugging on your heart and urging you to go on a mission trip, do it. If you feel a certain heaviness for those in close proximity to you who have been affected by the loss of a spouse, reach out to them. The key to living out James 1:27 is a willingness to have your eyes opened and to obey. Our hope is that One Twenty Seven will provide you with many outlets to do just that. We want to raise awareness for those who don’t have a voice, and to learn new ways to live out this heavy calling. We’re excited to be on this journey with you.
If you would like more information on how to become involved in the orphan ministries in India, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.