The town of Yola, Nigeria is full of empty people.
As one of the most populous cities in Northern Nigeria, Yola has become the home of more than 120,000 refugees fleeing the Boko Haram insurgency. Suddenly penniless, the destitute masses coming from surrounding villages have no choice but to rely on Yola’s already strained resources, the funds of Aid Organizations, and the kindness (or the danger) of strangers. While the number of internally displaced peoples (IDPs) grows, food, water, and living space becomes sparse; more and more, men, women, and children running to Yola, desperate for shelter and provision, are finding that neither truly exist anymore.
The empty hands of those in Yola are not only hungry for the most basic necessities of food and water; they are starved for spiritual provision– a true refuge. Many times being ripped away from their families, people enter the city gates sick with grief and loneliness, yearning to see their loved ones. The hearts of the people– once full of life, of love, of joy– may very likely lie as emaciated by pain as the bodies they are desperate to feed.
Perhaps the most vulnerable party of all, approximately 900 children are living in an informal “city of refuge”– one of Yola’s NEMA Aid Camps– bruised, beaten, and shaking with fear. Stripped of family comfort and having little to no knowledge of their rights, many of these children are being sold into sex or domestic slavery for as little as N10,000– $65 US dollars. Horrifically, like those caught in cities such as Yola, the very camps that are supposed to be providing children with safety and relief have become hunting grounds for heartless, evil human traffickers and their counterparts: apathetic, greedy, immoral Aid Workers.
The defenseless and destitute are reaching with weary hands to anything that shows signs of fulfilling them. And while we as people in first world countries may never feel the biting pain of a truly empty stomach, every human being, no matter their background, longs to be perfectly Loved, completely whole, and intimately known. As babies and children, this need is overtly expressed in the way a child clings to their mother or cries out for their father in distress; and while it may be hidden, this need to be known and loved is found at the very depths of a person’s soul long after the days of childhood. This essential necessity is the basis of every human pursuit in the world, noble and vulgar alike. Creating and searching the hearts and minds of all people, no one knows this intrinsic need– or is able to completely fulfill it– more than the Lord, Jesus.
The God who “Sees and Knows”
Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, YHWH (later manifested in human form as Jesus) is seen and known as the God who “Sees and Knows,” a God who is deeply interested and intimately involved in the lives of those who call upon His name. While this is found all over the Bible, one true account in the book of Genesis distinctly leaves behind the clear image of God as “the One who Sees” us in the hearts and minds of readers everywhere.
In Genesis 16, the story starts with the desires of Sarai and her husband, Abram (who later become the Sarah and Abraham most people know today). Though God promised them a son in Genesis 12, chapter 16 states that Sarai “had [still] borne him no children” (Genesis 16:1, NIV; “still” mine). Sarai seeks to fulfill this promise by her own means instead of trusting God, through giving one of her servants, Hagar, to Abram so that he might “build a family through her” (Genesis 16:2, NIV). This causes great strife within the family, as Hagar “despises” Sarai for using her to have a son. When Sarai “mistreats”– or beats– Hagar out of anger and guilt, Hagar flees to the desert near Shur, close to modern day Suez (Genesis 16:5-7, NIV).
This is the beautiful thing. As Hagar finds herself running from Sarai into the desert, she realizes that God has also found her. In an act of Sovereignty and Love, Jesus “finds” Hagar– actively sees and seeks her out– and counsels her (Genesis 16:7-8, NIV). Used as a pawn to fulfill Abram and Sarai’s desire for a child, Hagar’s answer in verse 8 is one that expresses hard emotions of hate and bitterness, while uncovering her true feelings of being hurt, unfairly treated, and made to feel worthless. God goes on to instruct and encourage Hagar with His commands and promises, telling her that He “will increase [her] descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count” (Genesis 16:9-10, NIV). Telling her to name her son Ishmael, or “God Hears,” Jesus affirms that He both knows her circumstances and is working in them (Genesis 16:11, NIV).
Hagar, moved by the the fact God sees and cares for her, praises Jesus, calling Him “the God who Sees Me” (Genesis 16:13, NIV). Knowing that God saw, heard, and knew her a midst the painful injustice she went through changed Hagar’s whole perspective on life, even causing her to obediently return back to Abram’s household and submit to Sarai– something that brought peace to the house, if only for a time.
The God who Provides
Later on, in chapter 21, Sarai (now Sarah) sees Ishmael mocking her son, Isaac, filling her with rage (Genesis 21:9, NIV). Demanding that Abram (now Abraham) sends Hagar and Ishmael away from their household forever, Abraham grievously sends them off into the Desert of Beersheba (Genesis 21:10-14, NIV).
Alone and suffering from lack of food and water, Hagar loses all hope of survival. In bitter despair, Hagar “put[s] the boy in the shade of a bush” and “[sits] down about a bowshot away,” not wanting to see her son die (Genesis 21:15-16, NIV). God, in His mercy, hears Ishmael crying and calls out to Hagar, telling her to “not be afraid,” for “[He] has heard the boy “crying as he lies there.” Commanding her to pick up her son, God then reminds Hagar that “He will make him into a great nation,” yet does not stop at fully supplying Hagar’s spiritual needs of encouragement and affirmation (Genesis 21:17-18, NIV). In love, He provides for their physical needs as well. Opening Hagar’s eyes to a well of water, He leads her to give her son a drink (Genesis 21:19, NIV). In doing so, God forever proves that He is not only omniscient, but also yearns to– and even delights in– completely fulfilling the every need of the people He created.
While our world has changed and progressed in many beneficial ways, the quintessential physical needs of humans still remain unmet in the majority of the world, especially in places like Northern Nigeria, where more than 60% of individuals live on less than $1 a day (source). More imperatively, the inherent spiritual needs of each human being to be saved, loved, and known are just as pressing as in Hagar’s time. Yet, our need is not eternally unmet. YHWH, Jesus, the God who “Sees, Knows, and Provides,” is a God who never changes, a God who loves to faithfully and completely provide every need– eternal and temporal– for those who call on and believe in His name. May the empty look to the One who always fulfills.
Let us come to Jesus, praying that:
Those in Yola, Nigeria, and places like it, would come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Whether displaced or a resident, may those in these “cities of refuge” find refuge in knowing Christ personally.
The Holy Spirit would move in, around, and through those who have been displaced. May the Lord equip His people with Love, Boldness, and a Sound Mind (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV) to spread the good news of Jesus to the displaced, resident, Aid and Government Worker alike.
Jesus would protect, strengthen, and bring justice to those who are most vulnerable, especially orphaned or parent-less children. Pray that Jesus would bring human traffickers and the Aid Workers collaborating with them to justice; pray that the government works tirelessly to protect the helpless, as it should.
Finally, pray that those in displacement camps would have the food, water, and shelter they need on a daily basis. As Jesus’ hands and feet, may we help supply this need. Donate to Oxfam, a main Aid source in Northern Nigeria.
Our God is mighty to save, and mighty to provide. May we see His saving work in each of our lives!
Do you know Jesus?
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 4:19, NIV)
Beyond food, water, and meaning, we as humans have a need for true, abundant, eternal life. We want to be whole, to be loved, to be eternal. Yet, no matter what we muster in pursuit of this, we are broken, conflicted, and doing things that will end in death.
Seeing our deep need, the Lord provided us with Himself, in human form: Jesus Christ. Meet Him.