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Why Matthew 25 seems different today

Suddenly, “I see that I am the stranger,” says this veteran missionary in Ghana

Mary Kay Jackson, a civil engineer from Texas, has spent the last 11 years working to bring clean water to people in rural Ghana. “God never stops revealing Himself,” she says, telling the uncanny way that Matthew 25 keeps describing her changing ministry.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” - Matthew 25: 35-40 (NIV)

Twenty years ago, I was a civil engineer working in Atlanta with a husband and two sons. When I read this passage, I saw all of the things I should do through my local church to serve others in our community. I could reach out in Jesus’ name and help others.

Twelve years ago, I read this verse as my call to serve cross-culturally and bring clean water to rural Ghana. Again, these were things I could do to help others in Jesus’ name.

Today when I read it, I see that I am the stranger in this verse. When our family moved to Ghana, we were the strangers in a new land. We had to learn the culture and how to live in western Africa. It was our Ghanaian friends who invited us in, were patient with us, and became our family. They reached out to us in Jesus’ name.

Partnership has become such an important part of our ministry in Ghana. Americans tend to take charge and want to do things themselves. Yet, through partnering with Ghanaians, we will accomplish our ministry more effectively and model kingdom values while doing so.

Bishop Kofi Asare Bediako is a Ghanaian Methodist pastor and the bishop of a region of Ghana. He was serving as the director of the Methodist Development and Relief Services, a ministry of the Methodist Church Ghana, when we moved here. Upon my arrival in Ghana, I was assigned to work as the water consultant with that organization, so Bishop Asare Bediako and I have worked closely together since my earliest days in Ghana.

We have traveled all over Ghana, digging wells to provide fresh water, building sanitation facilities, and founding schools. We both want Ghanaians to have the basic necessities so they can grow to accomplish everything God intends them to become.

Bishop Asare Bediako knew of a village that was 10 miles from the nearest medical clinic. Pregnant women and dehydrated children were suffering because of the long walk to the clinic, and he wanted to do something about it.

Bishop Asare Bediako located donors and founded the Mary Jackson Methodist Clinic in this small village, in honor of my 10 years of work in Ghana. As I was thinking about this, God really impressed upon me that I have been the stranger here and Ghanaians have invited me in. I can understand this passage of scripture differently because I have lived overseas.

I think it is important for us to remember that God never stops revealing Himself to us in different ways as we experience His mercies in various contexts. Partnering with Christians around the world and working together to make disciples will always be the best method to model Jesus’ way.