'We can't help everyone, but we can all do something for our neighbours in Ukraine as well as Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan'
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In Sheffield, statements from the council, fund raising projects by local community groups and the sight of Ukrainian flags are encouraging. But there is a desperate feeling of helplessness in the face of such wasteful destruction and tragic loss of life. It is so wrong, so awful. What can we do?
Political steps can and should be taken, such as providing a welcome for refugees, imposing sanctions on the Russian regime and making public statements, but what can be done on an individual, personal level?
Loving our neighbour is something the Bible encourages us to do. On one occasion, Jesus told a story to illustrate what that meant. A man stopped to help an injured stranger lying wounded in the road.
The striking thing about the story is that the two men were not just strangers, but they also belonged to separate communities that were divided by prejudice, and rarely had anything to do with each other. That sort of caring is what loving your neighbour is really all about, said Jesus.
At that time, there was no international news for ordinary people, so they did not know about disasters far away. Humanitarian agencies through which funds could be channelled overseas did not exist. For us, the challenge is that the whole world is our neighbour, not only the people of Ukraine, but also of Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, etc.. I can't help everyone.
As a result, it may be tempting to put aside people who live a long way away, and only offer help to those who are literally my neighbours – those who live nearby, or who belong to my community. Of course we need to help them as well, but to limit our caring like that goes against the whole message of Jesus, who went out of his way to say that my neighbour is not just someone familiar to me or like me.
A good thing to do would be to choose a neighbour from among those we hear about in need, and put some effort into finding out what can best help them, not just for now, but for the longer term. In Jesus' story, the good neighbour did not just give immediate, one off assistance. He also, at some inconvenience to himself, took the wounded man to a place where he could be looked after, and paid for his future care. The love he offered was thoughtful and practical.
When news of suffering seems overwhelming, as it is from Ukraine today, we may want to close our minds and hearts to what we hear. It's true that we can't help everyone, but we can all do something. Just now, the Ukrainian people are our neighbours, in need of love.