Immanuel—God’s Presence in People in a Time of Need
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. —John 1:1-5
When have you experienced a profound sense of God’s presence and “dwelling”? During one of my travels in Africa, the “Immanuel” of God was evident at a time when I became very ill. I had a short-lived but intense bout of dysentery after consuming obushera, a local drink of millet or sorghum that is usually made with boiled water but likely was not prepared properly for the wedding I attended. After a sleepless night of constant rushes to the bathroom in a local hotel where I was staying, I became so dehydrated and weak that I struggled to walk to the dining room for breakfast.
A young woman from Uganda saw me at the dining table and sat beside me. After greeting me with a radiant smile and introducing herself as Joy, she asked me if I was feeling alright. She expressed great concern for me, even asking if she could help by getting me some medicine from the nearest pharmacy over two hours’ drive away! I was amazed by her care and eagerness to pray for healing since I was a complete stranger to her. While I assured her that I would be fine once I had something to eat and drink again, she made me promise to call her the minute I reached Kampala, Uganda, where she lived.
To make a long story short, I called Joy, and she invited me to the Christian Bible study fellowship group that met at her church. I started going to those meetings regularly, and afterwards we would drink chai at her house. A deep friendship developed, to the extent that each of us eventually served as the matron-of-honour at one another’s weddings.
Joy exemplified to me how God’s presence and Spirit could dwell so richly in someone that they would reach out to a total stranger and help them in a time of sickness. Joy also helped me in a way that did not make me think she was acting as a saviour but, rather, pointed me to the Saviour as the healer and source of all the love she had to give. Her relationship proved to me that God dwells everywhere in the world and that I am not a missionary bringing God to some place where God is absent. Instead, we are all “sick, hurting, and hungry” people showing other “sick, hurting, and hungry” people where we can find the medicine, healing, food, and reconciliation in Jesus.
When I read the words of John 1:14 about Christ, who “became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” I am reminded of a similar “God with us” promise given by Christ in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20): “. . . and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” That means our mission in this world is all about sharing the “with-ness” and “dwelling” of God, so much so that people we relate with can come to see him and the gift of his salvation. That is what Joy did with me, and that is what I need to do with others as I serve in World Renew.
Given the many people experiencing poverty, disaster, and injustice in our world today, World Renew and the global church have magnificent opportunities to share God’s amazing love and gift of salvation. As we do so, may our efforts to help others never feed a “saviour mentality,” in which we think or act as if we are the saviour; instead, may our efforts faithfully point others to our Immanuel, the Saviour already dwelling and omnipresent. To him “be the glory, great things he has done!”
Lord, we thank you for the gift of your presence, assuring us that we are never alone. May your Spirit dwell in us in such a powerful way that we shine your presence brightly and see your presence rightly, showing us how you are at work and dwelling with others. Remove the prideful tendencies we have to act as if we are the saviour to people who are in need, and enable us to help in ways that point to you as the Saviour so that their lives may flourish. Shine your presence and dwelling through us. “Shine, Jesus, shine. Fill this land with the Father’s glory!” Amen.
Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo is a codirector of World Renew, leading the agency’s work in and from Canada. She has served with World Renew for over 30 years, half of those years based in East Africa, where her husband grew up. They have three young-adult children, a cat, and a good sense of humor. Ida also serves as a pastoral elder at Immanuel CRC in Hamilton, Ontario, and teaches a community development course at Redeemer University College.