When I was called into ministry in the summer of 1999, I felt my call to be a missionary, and in some ways, that’s what I am. My call was to help children who live in poverty, children who need help, children who need support and resources and love to help them thrive in a world that seems to be working against them.

I didn’t understand my call at first - during seminary I considered being a professor, writing books, being a local church pastor - but deep down, I was being pulled by God toward ministry with children in poverty. My heart was “burdened” with a call and I didn’t recognize that call until after 7 years into my ministry, almost 10 years after my call.

As I reflect on my trip, representing my non-profit organization called Friends of Padhar Schools,  as I try to remember all the stories and activities, all the sights, sounds and smells, I also reflect on this passage from the gospel of Matthew, chapter 11: verses 28-20:

28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

We all have “burdens”  - things that weigh us down. Challenges and struggles, illness, pain, past trauma, bad relationships, guilts and worries…. 

The word used for "burden" comes from the word for a ship's cargo and indicates theat these burdens -  are indeed heavy and serious - Later in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees by saying: "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:4)

In rural India they still use oxen to plow the fields. The plow is heavy and so a yoke is placed on each ox and the farmer guides them up and down the rows of corn or eggplant or pumpkins. This image is helpful as we try to understand what Jesus is saying:

28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Many times, the “yoke” of Christ does not seem easy. The call of God, the work we do for the kingdom is not easy - it challenges us to our very core! It challenges our sense of self-care; it is risky; it requires late-nights and heartbreak when plans don’t turn out like we thought they would; it is hard to follow the call of God. And not just for me, but for you too. Because God does not just call people to be pastors, but God calls you to be teachers, doctors, nurses… God calls us to take care of children and parents, God calls us to help others however we can - with their finances, with their emotional lives, with their relationships. And this work is difficult, when you follow God’s call. It tests us. That yoke is not easy. Let me give you an example.

This is Shital. She has just started the 11th grade and she wants to be a nurse. She is one of 5 students our non-profit will be sponsoring from Panchsheel School. Her favorite subjects are history and she loves to play an Indian sport called Kho-Kho. She was identified by the teachers at Panchsheel School as one of the students who has a bright future and is in need of funding to finish her secondary school education and will need help with funding for nursing school. 

As I was visiting Panchsheel School, near the city of Paratwada, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with these students. And Shital was a special one. 

“Tell us about yourself.” We began. And out came a story of her family: a father she never knew because he left when she was young, a mother who works multiple jobs to support the family, an uncle who drinks and is not able to be a steady presence for them, and older brother who also drinks and gets in trouble, and she and her little sister… trying to get an education. 

“We have nobody.” she said as she started to cry. “We have nobody.”

Immediately, my heart says, “Okay, I will adopt this child and her sister, move to India and raise them myself!” 

But my head says, “What can I do? I cannot do everything but I can do something. I can provide her a scholarship to get an education and in this way let her know that she does have somebody. Me.”

This yoke is not easy.

But maybe this is a misunderstanding of the biblical text: Maybe Jesus didn’t mean that following God would be a breeze!

In this scripture, Jesus’ yoke is described as “easy," and the Greek word used is chrestos -- only one letter different from christos = “Christ". 

According to author Brian Stoffregen, this word -“EASY”- does not mean "not strenuous," but

1. "being superior for a particular purpose or use” so Jesus may be saying that his yoke is better than any other yoke.

2. "being useful and benevolent, being good” so Jesus may be saying that his yoke is more beneficial than others.

3. "being kind” so Jesus may be saying that his yoke is kinder than any other yoke.

4. "being pleasant or easy, with the implication of suitability" - Jesus may be saying that his yoke fits us well -- it is suitable for our human condition and abilities. Perhaps like a couple "who are made for each other" -- being good and kind to each other is not a chore, but a natural and gracious response to the other. (1)

Maybe this saying abut yokes and burdens is more like an If/then statement.

If you follow my call, then the heaviness you feel will be alleviated. If you take my yoke- the better yoke, the kinder yoke, the more suitable yoke - if you take my yoke upon you, and let me guide you, then we can shoulder those burdens together.

One of the ways the LOAD is lightened, as we take up the yoke of Christ, is that we become aware that we are not alone in our work. That beside us is another ox! Another worker in the field, helping us carry the burdens. 

One of the schools we work with in the small village of Padhar is called the School and Rehabilitation Centre for the Blind. Established in 1973, it now is the home to about 200 children who are blind, deaf, physically impaired, and developmentally delayed. 

It is run by one family: the Andrews family. This is Mr. Andrews, who left a very good, high-paying government job in the 80’s, when he visited the school and was called by God to be a part of it. The school houses the children and provides them classes in life skills, vocational training, sign language and braille and helps with teacher’s assistants that accompany them to school and help them translate materials so they can participate. This year, Friends of Padhar Schools will be sponsoring 26 students from the Blind School.

Mr. Andrews is the principal of the school and the director of the live-in facility that houses both girls and boys, and the love he has for these children in apparent upon meeting him. Many of the children have parents and homes in nearby villages and during the summer, the children travel home and then return when the school year begins. But some do not. And those children live year-round at the school, cared for by Mr. and Mrs. Andrews and the staff. 

One night, Mr. Andrews got a phone call from one of the night staff saying one of the girls had gotten out of the gate and was wandering around near the front gate. Mr. Andrews directed the staff to open the gate and retrieve the girl and put her to bed. The staff person said, “I will, but I don’t think she’s one of ours.”

Apparently, the girls’ family had dropped her off in the middle of the night, outside the gate, hoping the school would take her in.

This is Millie. She has a severe intellectual disability - or as they describe it - she is retarded. When she arrived, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews took her in and tried to help her. She was very disturbed, she harmed herself and others, she didn’t communicate with words or signs or sounds, she was difficult. After a time, the staff came to him and said, “Look, we are not helping this girl. She needs more attention than we are able to give. This is not fair to us. She needs specialized help.” 

Mr. Andrews agreed and began to look for a facility to take Millie to, an institution that could help her. If she moved, the burden on the staff and on him would be eased. SO, he found an institution in Mumbai that would take Millie and the staff and the family was relieved. 

They worked for a month to prepare for Millie’s departure and the night before she was to leave, Mr. Andrews couldn’t sleep. He tossed and turned all night thinking this was not the right decision.

When he woke up, he notified the teachers and staff that Millie would not be leaving. The relocation was cancelled and Millie would be staying with them. “This girl,” Mr. Andrews told them, “has been sent to us to teach us how to love. It will not always be easy, but we will all grown and learn from Millie.”

After this decision was made, the staff began to approach Millie in a different way - they followed her lead and they did not expect her to behave like the other children. They listened and looked for the cues she gave them and realized she was communicating - just not like anyone else. And now, Millie is safe and loved and has a home at the School. And because they have not heard from her family, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews have started adoption procedures to officially add Millie to their family. And she is also one of the students we are sponsoring this year.

If we take on the yoke of Christ, the guiding hand of Jesus, the powerful call of God….. THEN we recognize that the burdens we carry- we are not carrying alone. Not only do we have Jesus guiding us, but we have partners in our work to help us accomplish our work for the kingdom.

28“Come to me,” Jesus said. “all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Amen.


1. Brian Stoffregen, found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt11x16.htm