Today is the 111th annual World Day of Prayer (WDP). Each year people around the globe participate in this ecumenical worship service held the first Friday in March. This year's service was prepared by Christian women from Madagascar and has as its theme "Who Is My Neighbor?" The service includes Jesus Christ's parable of the good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37), in which the concept of being a neighbor is elevated to that of one who shows mercy, even to strangers.
Caring for one's neighbor is a deeply rooted tradition in Madagascar. A Malagasy proverb says, "However little food we have, we'll share it (even if it's only one locust)." This Indian Ocean island country is geographically isolated. The Malagasy women describe their country as a friendly one that "attracts people from other lands." But they also identify a number of grave problems that Madagascar faces. These include: periodic droughts in certain regions that lead to famine; severe environmental degradation; spiritual illiteracy among many of the country's children; lack of educational opportunities for women; and moral crises that involve greed, violence, insecurity, and poverty.
What can be done? The founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, once noted that "space is no separator of hearts" ("Miscellaneous Writings," Pg. 150). Even though most people have never been to Madagascar, we can all discover this distant neighbor in our hearts. This year's WDP service includes this: "We believe in the power of prayer and its ability to call everyone to fullness of life.... O God, all power and authority come from you."
Jesus showed that God is the divine Principle, Love. In fact, God is universal Love - and every individual is God's child, the spiritual reflection of Love. As such, each is truly governed only by God, through divine laws of good.
The foundation of sisterhood and brotherhood is that one good God is our Father and Mother. Emphasizing God as being divine Mind, Love, Truth, and Principle, the Christian Science textbook states, "With one Father, even God, the whole family of man would be brethren; and with one Mind and that God, or good, the brotherhood of man would consist of Love and Truth, and have unity of Principle and spiritual power which constitute divine Science" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Pgs. 469-470).
The Monitor endeavors to inform readers about their neighbors around the world. Not just because it is interesting and educational, but also because of a deeply held conviction that prayer, based on spiritual understanding, can be effective in improving world situations. Prayer can replace selfish and materialistic affections with a recognition of universal sisterhood and brotherhood.
Over the past several years, Monitor articles have reported on such subjects as Madagascar's difficulties in obtaining foreign funds for development, its struggles with financial scams, and its political uncertainties. Also, on efforts to save rapidly disappearing rain forests and prevent a major ecological disaster. The country's problems, often interrelated, may seem overwhelming. For example, poor resource management due to lack of education can result in desertification; this, in turn, produces famine and political instability.
Here is where the true spirit of neighborliness, expressed both within and without the country, can lay a firm foundation for progress - through the power of Love that neighborliness expresses. Through prayer, we can become better informed as to the root causes of Madagascar's difficulties. We also can grow in our appreciation of the country's remarkable human and natural resources. Most important, we can pray and see that each one of its people has the God-given right to express freedom from the bondage of fear, ignorance, and sin. The spirit of this divine power is expressed in one of the Malagasy hymns used in the service, which begins: "Love is like living water/ like a deep spring/ in love we can see heav'n."
We can all follow the biblical admonition to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Lev. 19:18), because God made us to reflect His love and intelligence. The Malagasy are our neighbors - not because of geographical proximity, but because they truly are our brothers and sisters.