Foreign assistance, in its purest, unselfish form, is a Christly gesture, a philanthropic activity that follows Jesus’ command to feed the hungry and take in the stranger. But with the overwhelming needs of the people in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and the enormous amounts of money involved (not to mention government bureaucracies and contractors without adequate systems of accountability), it becomes very complicated. Foreign aid, often politicized, becomes controversial, with some observers feeling that the humanitarian gesture is now big business, with large salaries going to some with no on-the-ground experience, and, as some critics have averred, to projects that might be culturally insensitive.
How best to support the basic humanitarian impulse to help our brothers and sisters in need? Some might turn to trusted nongovernmental organizations, while others might feel that, with all their faults, government agencies are the best way to bring assistance.
As one who has lived in developing countries for years, I would also put forward that prayer should be part of the mix, and in fact, at the very base of all humanitarian activities. This prayer is a spiritual and effective way for all of us to support those activities, and we can do it right where we are. Prayer that is most effective puts self and ambition out of the way in a sincere desire to get closer to God, to understand His will, and to find ways to express God’s love in our daily lives.
The Bible points out that God, unlimited good, is our starting point. In fact, one Psalm puts it this way: “I am poor and needy: make haste unto me, O God: thou art my help and my deliverer; O Lord, make no tarrying” (70:5). This isn’t solely a plea for human assistance, but rather springs from a deep conviction that God is the only truly reliable help and deliverer, and that His help is timely and effective. Prayer that starts with this same conviction is a Christly activity that any of us, wherever we are, can do.
Seeing that God is the source of help, rather than fallible humankind, can break the bottlenecks of government bureaucracy and inadequacies of delivery, because it acknowledges that God, the infinite Mind that controls the universe, is more than equal to the challenge. Such prayer should also include a recognition that the real nature of man – meaning both men and women – is spiritual and that all are naturally attracted to what is good and honest.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Monitor, wrote in her major work, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “Controlled by the divine intelligence, man is harmonious and eternal” (p. 184). Our prayers insisting that each individual is at one with wisdom and inspiration from God helps keep people alert to His guidance, obedient to His direction. God never steers anyone into inappropriate actions. God has no bureaucratic ineptitude or profiteering, and no delivery problems for His good.
Prayer that acknowledges God as the one infinite Mind, reveals that His appropriate, timely direction can be felt by those making decisions and those on the ground. This results in effective, timely assistance to our brothers and sisters in need. And those prayers are never made in vain.