Like all of you, my heart ached as I watched the news footage of the refugees from Ukraine fleeing from their homes.  But I was stunned to read that so many people across Europe have opened their homes to the refuges, that the need is being met.  We’re talking nearly two million refugees!  Unbelievable!  I got a little teary as I tried to understand that tremendous outpouring of compassion and willingness to sacrifice for people in distress—from another country and usually speaking a different language.

I’ve been reflecting on this these past few weeks because I’ve had the opportunity to petition the Lord through both fasting and prayer for help with my work in India.  I remembered that in Isaiah’s amazing 58th chapter on fasting, he tells us that a true fast is not just abstaining from food.  He says:

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

Basically, Isaiah is suggesting that if you want God to help you, then reach out and help one of His children in need.  That makes sense to me.  Isaiah lists eight actions that could be included in a fast.  The fifth action is one that is quite striking. He doesn’t say that we should create homeless shelters.  He says that we should bring the poor that are cast out to our own house.  That one, quite honestly, gives me pause.  My first reaction is how to protect my family in such a situation?  My second reaction is, isn’t there an easier way?  After all, our homes are our sanctuaries, right?

Several weeks ago, my husband received a call from ICE.  Apparently, a young man had made a 270-mile journey, alone and on foot, from Nicaragua.  Upon reaching the Rio Grande River, he swam the river.  He was immediately arrested by ICE as soon as he emerged on the other side, in Texas.

He was asked if he knew anyone in the United States?  He answered that yes, he knew my husband.  ICE then proceeded to call my husband to ask if we would be responsible for this young man until his hearing for asylum in September.  As it turned out, this young man, Juan (not his real name), had been one of our missionaries when my husband served as Mission President in Santiago, Dominican Republic.  We immediately affirmed that we would take responsibility for him.  We sent money for a bus ticket, and they put him on a bus.  He arrived the next day and I drove to the downtown Atlanta bus station to pick him up.

Juan had been a wonderful missionary.  He came from a strong Latter-day Saint home, where his father was the Bishop of their ward.  He arrived in the mission field eager to work hard.  He arrived in our home in Atlanta in the same way, eager to work hard!  But he now was on a different mission as he was now the head of a family with a loving wife and two darling young boys to care for.

He was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a stunning pair of women’s gold shoes.  His own clothes had been taken by ICE and burned. Then he was issued this outfit and put on the bus.  His first concern was to buy some garments.  So, the first thing we did the next day was go to the distribution center at the Atlanta temple and buy him some garments.  Then we got him his vaccinations.

Finally—off to buy some clothes.  I was tempted to buy his golden shoes from him because they were pretty cute, but I didn’t want to risk offending him!  We got some basic clothing for him.  We put him in the downstairs bedroom.  I had to dust off my Spanish, which I admit had become a bit rusty through disuse.  He was struggling with the little English he had learned in the Mission Field.  Somehow between both of our sparse language skills we managed to communicate.

I learned how his family was threatened by the drug cartels in Nicaragua.  He and his wife, both working, were unable to pay their rent, let alone the distortion demanded by the cartels.  He was terribly worried about his family’s safety, so in desperation, he decided to try to get into the U.S.  I couldn’t imagine doing that 270-mile journey alone.  He said he was forced to do it that way because he had no money to pay a smuggler. He told me, “My only option was to trust in the Lord.  He blessed me with miracles along my journey.”

The night Juan arrived, we called our contractor.  We’re building a house and we thought perhaps our contractor could find some work for Juan?  He laughed.  “Are you kidding?!” During this build, we have experienced multiple delays because of the shortage of construction workers.  Sub-contractors were very hard to come by, so our completion date kept getting pushed further and further back.  If any of you have been involved in a construction project, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  There is a serious shortage of construction workers at the moment.  By this point our home was already one year behind on the finish date.

Juan went to work the next morning with our contractor.  While working that day, he received offers from all the sub-contractors working there.  Everyone was looking for workers!  He decided to go with a framing group, building homes in Columbus, Georgia.  When he accepted the job, he had no idea how far away Columbus is!  It’s a good two hours from Atlanta.

Juan gets picked up every day at 5:30 AM.  He works like crazy and arrives home at 9:30 at night.  He’s exhausted.  He works 6 days a week.  He almost earns as much in a day, as he previously earned in Nicaragua in a month.  He saves every penny!  Some paydays his employer decides to only pay his workers for part of the days they’ve worked.  He has no recourse but to accept whatever his employer decides to pay him.  No matter—he’s still incredibly grateful for the work.

If it happens to rain and he’s not able to go to work, Juan asks me for a list of jobs around the house that he could do.  He works the entire day without stopping.  He’s painted several areas of my home. He’s cleaned all windows, inside and out. He’s even helped with sewing jobs.  He doesn’t want pay for his work.  He wants to have a way to say, thank you.

Speaking of which, when we get a chance to eat together, John and I don’t even finish our last bite before Juan has whisked away our dishes to the sink to be cleaned.  He helps with the food preparation whenever he is home.  He takes out the trash.  He cleans everything that even remotely looks like it needs cleaning.  He keeps his own living area spotless.  He’s the perfect house guest.

Even so, having another person in your home automatically demands some change in your daily routine.  No more lounging around in your robe for a leisurely breakfast!  I happen to style my hair with hot rollers. Suddenly, I felt barred from the living areas of my home for the 40 minutes it took to curl my hair.  Obviously, I’m a slave to vanity!

My husband and I generally try to adhere to a plant-based diet.  Suddenly I found myself preparing two dinners each night.  Because I’m providing two completely different types of food, my grocery bill has climbed a bit.  I know that Juan would eat plant-based meals if that is what I provided.  But I somehow feel that if you’re doing hard physical labor more than 12 hours a day, you might need a little more protein, so I’ve made some changes in my grocery shopping.

Juan sends every penny home to his wife.  However, he can’t send it directly to her without endangering her life.  Instead, he has to send it through multiple friends.  They are also becoming a bit leery.  It’s not safe in their country to be seen as receiving money from the States. But at the moment, he has no other options if he wants his family to be able to pay their rent and buy food.

His dream is to be granted asylum and be able to bring his family here. We are praying with him for this dream.

Being naturally quite selfish, I struggle with being willing to do the kinds of things Isaiah suggests.  I’m not always willing to sacrifice so that others can have.  I’m not much of a social activist.  I’m certainly not very good at breaking the bonds of wickedness or helping the oppressed to go free.  The one thing that comes relatively easy for me is to share my home.  Over the years, even from the first month that we were married, we have had extra people living in our home.  They have come for a variety of reasons. 

Over the years, John and I have sponsored four refugee families: two from Laos, one from Cambodia and one from Poland.  Each of these families lived with us for several months while we helped them to get enrolled in English school, find work, get housing, etc. When my husband was Bishop, if there was a bitter divorce involving an abusive husband, our home became home to the wife and children until other arrangements could be made.  These situations sometimes lasted for months.

We’ve also housed several runaway teenagers, whose families requested our help. We’ve housed a single-parent family whose mother needed to take cancer treatments and couldn’t pay her rent.  They stayed for more than a year.  We’ve had a kid trying to get off drugs and begin a new life.  We’ve had a family from Nigeria.  We’ve had a single-parent mother and her teenage daughter for five years.  The list goes on.  We’ve had a family of five stay in our home for two years.  A Mexican family of four stayed in our home for three years during our mission.  A stay in our home is always rent-free.  Neither John nor I can remember many months of our 48-year marriage when we have not had extra people living in our home.

The only time that John put his foot down and refused to open up our home is when I invited a dancer from the “Tops and Bottoms” lounge in Atlanta, who I met on a bus, to stay with us until we could find her proper lodging.  She had come home from work one morning to find that her boyfriend had taken off and robbed her of everything she owned.  John said he was not going to have a burlesque dancer living in his home!  While angry at him at the time, I now have to admit he was probably right.

I must also admit, all have not been as ideal houseguests as Juan is. Some have been downright challenging! I’ll never forget coming home one night to a scene out of a horror movie.  Our kitchen table was covered with blood, which had dripped down onto the floor.  There was blood on the cabinets and on the refrigerator door.  Flabbergasted, we asked what in the world was going on?  Our houseguest from Nigeria was grinning from ear to ear as he announced triumphantly that he had found a stray goat and slaughtered it.  It was now in our refrigerator.  Would we like some goat stew that he had prepared?

Seriously??  We explained that in America there was no such thing as a “stray” goat.  The owner would have to be found and compensated. Definitely a new experience for us!  During these stays there were numerous new experiences for us.  Some good.  Some not so good.  But we have a wonderful diverse group of interesting and delightful people that we now call dear friends.

In Isaiah’s chapter on fasting, he not only defines a true fast, but he makes some glorious promises to those who try to fast in this manner. 

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.

Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. 

In my work in India at the moment with the leprosy-affected, we are facing some incredibly difficult challenges.  I have been fasting about these issues for several months.  I need to be able to call and have the Lord answer, as Isaiah promises. 

I recently felt that we needed to go to India, in spite of the State Department’s warnings, not only about COVID, but also about what the U.S. State department called “other safety issues.”  I believe that Juan’s coming was a blessing from God, to help me to offer a more effective fast.  Then off we went to India.

Brett Caywood (our new President at Rising Star Outreach) and I just returned from the most successful trip to India that I have ever had.  We saw literal miracles.  Time after time after time.  It was remarkable.  What a blessing Juan’s coming has been for me!

Let’s be clear: not every person needing a home is safe.  I believe that through life’s twists and turns we can be guided by the Spirit as we seek to lift others.  Sometimes, as in the case of the dancer from the Tops and Bottoms lounge, we need to make use of homeless shelters. But I also believe that there are times when the Spirit can direct us to bring those that are cast out into the bosom of our families where they can be nourished and healed by love. 

Not ready to bring someone into your home?  Remember, bringing the poor who are cast out into your home is only one of eight things Isaiah counsels us to consider doing when we fast.  There are many, many avenues to serve others!  I love the idea that when we fast, we can become extra sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit to reach out and help others in whatever way we can.

In these times the promises of the Lord are truly remarkable:

10 And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day:

11 And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

I hunger to have situations where I call and the Lord answers; situations where I cry, and He says, “Here I am.” (verse 9).  I hunger to have Him guide me continually and satisfy my soul in drought (verse 11).  I want to raise up the foundation of many generations and for my children to be able to help build up Zion. (build the old waste places, verse 12). 

As we prayerfully seek to follow Isaiah’s admonition to fast in such a way that we can lift others who need help, I believe that we will be blessed.  Sometimes that takes the form of fast offerings.  What a wonderful way to be able to feed the hungry and help lift!  I love the Fast Offering program! Sometimes it can also take a more direct form in working to break the bonds of wickedness, helping the oppressed go free, feeding the hungry, and helping with needs inside our own family circles.  Sometimes it might even mean sharing your home with one of God’s other children.

Be careful.  Be prayerful.  Remember, that as we seek to lift others, God lifts us.