“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

The Bible talks a lot about widows. I’ve always skimmed over those verses, thinking they belong to a different age and that they are more symbolic of God’s command to be generous and look after those in need. This week, however, I’ve been reminded in a tragic way that the widows are still among us. Very few of those who I know are being looked after by their brothers and sisters in the Church.

Our guest speaker who is traveling around the UK this week, sharing her testimony as a representative of the Persecuted Church, received some devastating news just before her first speaking engagement on Sunday morning. Was it an attack to throw her off? Given the tortuous experience of getting her a visa, probably. But it’s also a very concrete situation to which we, as her brothers and sisters in Christ, have to respond. She learned that the financial support from her denomination which she and her three children have received since the disappearance of her husband two years ago is coming to an end. The support was very minimal but it made the critical difference in keeping them out of abject poverty and homelessness.

The denomination isn’t financially well off and there are a lot of widows, more every year – so it’s not a matter of them being uncaring or cold. The fact of the matter is that the financially impoverished churches and denominations are the ones that suffer most in Colombia. They are the ones that maintain churches and carry out mission work in the conflict zones – their congregations are filled with subsistence farmers – the pastors themselves often double up, pastoring and farming, in order to make ends meet. These are the pastors who are targeted for assassination by the different armed groups. Their wives come from the communities in which they minister – the vast majority have a primary education, some have a high school degree. The only work they know, and to which they have dedicated their lives, is as a pastor’s wife, with all that that entails.

When a pastor is killed, these women are suddenly left without a husband, without a father for their children, and without a job. They pass from being a pastor’s wife to being a pastor’s widow – and most of these communities are unable to maintain a new pastor and his family and the wife of the assassinated pastor. In many cases, the widow and children have to flee the area anyway, and flock to the cities where they join the massive internally displaced population living in misery.

There are financially rich churches in Colombia and I admit I’ve condemned them in my heart for turning their backs, out of ignorance or convenience, on the widows and orphans in their midst. The wives and children of martyrs of the faith – forgotten and ignored spiritual heroes. But it’s really not just their fault – these women and children belong to all of us. God’s not just going to hold the Colombian churches to account for the well-being of these women and children because they happen to be located inside some humanly drawn borders. The Church is bigger than that, it supersedes man-made lines, and these women and children are as much my brother and sister as they are of a Christian who happens to live in Cartagena.

Twenty to thirty pastors are assassinated each YEAR in Colombia – almost all of them leave behind families who have not only lost a husband and father, but all too often, everything else as well – their security, their home, their futures. The scale of the problem is overwhelming and the silence of the worldwide Church is devastating but I read these words this morning, written by Dr. Dallas Willard in his book, The Divine Conspiracy,

“The barren, the widow, the orphan, the eunuch, the alien, all models of human hopelessness, are fruitful and secure in God’s care. They are repeatedly invoked in Old Testament writings as testimony to the great inversion between our way and God’s way.”

This is right and good and I believe with all my heart that God will remain faithful to His martyrs and those they leave behind, but how the unfaithfulness of His Church must grieve him.