Look After Orphans and Widows in Their Tribulation
It is not difficult to recognize that we live in an unloving world. Referring to the kind of people existing during “the last days,” the apostle Paul wrote: “Critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, . . . having no natural affection.” (2 Timothy 3:1-3) How true those words are!
THE moral environment of our times has contributed to a lack of compassion in the hearts of many. People are less and less interested in the welfare of others, in some cases even in that of members of their own family.
This adversely affects many who, because of various circumstances, become destitute. The number of widows and orphans steadily grows as a result of wars, natural disasters, and displacement of people seeking refuge. (Ecclesiastes 3:19) “More than 1 million [children] have been orphaned or separated from their families as a result of war,” states a report from the United Nations Children’s Fund. You also know of the large number of single, abandoned, or divorced mothers who face the harsh task of surviving and bringing up their families on their own. The situation is worsened by the fact that some countries are confronting a serious economic crisis, which causes many of their citizens to live in extreme poverty.
In view of this, is there any hope for those experiencing tribulation? How can the suffering of widows and orphans be alleviated? Will this problem ever be eliminated?
Loving Care in Bible Times
Caring for the physical and spiritual needs of widows and orphans has always been an integral part of worshiping God. When harvesting their grain or fruits, the Israelites were not to gather what remained in the field, gleaning after themselves. The gleanings were to be left “for the alien resident, for the fatherless boy and for the widow.” (Deuteronomy 24:19-21) The Law of Moses specified: “You people must not afflict any widow or fatherless boy.” (Exodus 22:22, 23) The widows and orphans spoken of in the Bible appropriately represented the poorer people, since upon the death of the husband and father or of both parents, the surviving family members might be left alone and destitute. The patriarch Job stated: “I would rescue the afflicted one crying for help, and the fatherless boy and anyone that had no helper.”—Job 29:12.
During the early days of the Christian congregation, caring for those afflicted and truly needy as a result of the loss of parents or of a husband was a distinctive feature of true worship. With keen interest in the welfare of such ones, the disciple James wrote: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.”—James 1:27.
Besides mentioning orphans and widows, James also showed deep concern for others who were poor and destitute. (James 2:5, 6, 15, 16) The apostle Paul displayed the same thoughtfulness. When he and Barnabas were given their preaching assignment, ‘keeping the poor in mind’ was among the instructions they received. “This very thing I have also earnestly endeavored to do,” Paul could say in good conscience. (Galatians 2:9, 10) The account of the activities of the Christian congregation shortly after its establishment noted: “There was not one in need among them . . . In turn distribution would be made to each one, just as he would have the need.” (Acts 4:34, 35) Yes, the arrangement established in ancient Israel of caring for orphans, widows, and the destitute was carried over into the Christian congregation.
Of course, the aid provided was moderate and in harmony with the means of the individual congregations. Money was not wasted, and those assisted were really in need. No Christian was to take unfair advantage of this arrangement, and no unnecessary burden was to be placed upon the congregation. This was clearly evident in Paul’s instructions set out at 1 Timothy 5:3-16. There we see that if the relatives of the needy were able to assist them, they were to shoulder that responsibility. Needy widows had to meet certain requirements in order to qualify for assistance. All of this reflects the wise arrangement Jehovah uses to care for those in need. Yet, it also shows that balance must be exercised so that no one presumes on the kindness shown.—2 Thessalonians 3:10-12.
Caring for Orphans and Widows Today
The principles followed by servants of God in the past are still applied in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses when it comes to showing concern for and rendering help to those suffering tribulation. Brotherly love is a characterizing feature, just as Jesus stated: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) If some are suffering want or have become victims of a disaster or the effects of war or civil strife, the rest of the international brotherhood is eager to find ways to be of assistance spiritually and materially. Let us note some modern-day experiences that show what is being done in this regard.
Pedro does not recall much about his mother, who died when he was only a year and a half old. When Pedro was five, his father also died. So Pedro was left alone with his brothers. Jehovah’s Witnesses had already been calling on their father, thus Pedro and his older brothers all started to receive a home Bible study.
Pedro relates: “The very next week, we started to attend the meetings. As we associated with the brothers, we could feel the love that they expressed toward us. The congregation was a refuge for me because the brothers and sisters showed me love and affection, just as if they were my parents.” Pedro recalls that one of the Christian elders would invite him to his home. There Pedro shared with the family in conversation and relaxation. “These are memories that I cherish,” says Pedro, who started to preach about his faith at the age of 11 and got baptized at 15. Aided by those in the congregation, his older brothers likewise made much progress in a spiritual way.
There is also the case of David. He and his twin sister were abandoned when their parents separated. Their grandparents and an aunt raised them. “When we grew older and realized the situation we were in, we were overcome by a feeling of insecurity and sadness. We needed something to lean on. My aunt became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and thanks to this, we were instructed in Bible truth. The brothers extended to us their affection and friendship. They were very fond of us and encouraged us to reach goals and to keep on working for Jehovah. When I was about ten years old, a ministerial servant would pick me up to share in the field ministry. Another brother took care of my expenses when I attended conventions. One even helped me so that I could make contributions at the Kingdom Hall.”
David was baptized when he was 17 years old, and later he began serving at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mexico. Even now he acknowledges: “There are several elders who contribute to my education and provide me with helpful counsel. In this way I am overcoming the feeling of insecurity and loneliness.”
Abel, an elder in a congregation in Mexico where there are several widows who need assistance, relates: “I am convinced that the most compelling need that the widows have is emotional support. Sometimes they go through periods of depression; they feel lonely. Therefore, it is very important to be supportive, listening to them. We [the congregation elders] visit them frequently. It is good to take the time to pay attention to their problems. This contributes to their feeling spiritually comforted.” However, economic assistance is sometimes needed as well. “We are now building a house for a sister who is a widow,” Abel related a while ago. “We spend some Saturdays and some afternoons during the week working on her home.”
About his own experience in providing help to orphans and widows, another congregation elder says: “I believe that orphans are even more deeply in need of Christian love than are widows. I have noticed that they are more likely to feel rejected than children and adolescents who have both of their parents. They need many expressions of brotherly affection. It is good to look for them after the meetings to find out how they are. There is a married brother who was orphaned when a little boy. I always greet him warmly at the meeting, and he embraces me when he sees me. This strengthens the bonds of true brotherly love.”
Jehovah “Will Deliver the Poor One”
Trust in Jehovah is fundamental to coping with the situation of widows and orphans. About him it is said: “Jehovah is guarding the alien residents; the fatherless boy and the widow he relieves.” (Psalm 146:9) The complete solution to problems of this sort will come only through God’s Kingdom in the hands of Jesus Christ. Prophetically describing that rulership by the Messiah, the psalmist wrote: “He will deliver the poor one crying for help, also the afflicted one and whoever has no helper. He will feel sorry for the lowly one and the poor one, and the souls of the poor ones he will save.”—Psalm 72:12, 13.
As the end of the present system of things gets closer, the pressures that Christians in general face are certain to increase. (Matthew 24:9-13) There is a need every day for Christians to show more concern for one another and to “have intense love for one another.” (1 Peter 4:7-10) Christian men, especially elders, need to display concern and compassion for those orphaned. And mature women in the congregation can offer much support to the widows and be a source of consolation. (Titus 2:3-5) In fact, everyone can contribute by actively displaying concern for others who are undergoing tribulation.
True Christians do not ‘shut the door of their tender compassions’ when they ‘behold their brother having need.’ They are keenly aware of heeding the apostle John’s admonition: “Little children, let us love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:17, 18) So let us “look after orphans and widows in their tribulation.”—James 1:27.
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“Let us love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth.”—1 John 3:18
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True Christians look after orphans and widows materially, spiritually, and emotionally