So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently… seems like cold winter evenings provide a lot of good opportunities for this sort of thing! There is a long-running debate about the balance/emphasis/focus of missions. Although I thought it was a modern debate, I’ve discovered in reading some old missionary biographies that this tension has been around for years. I’ve heard good sermons and read good material on the subject matter; but I think I have now solidified my personal beliefs in this area.

Some have the perspective that in “minor” areas like this, our theology doesn’t really matter—we should do what’s before us. While we are called to whole-heartedly apply ourselves in faithfulness to whatever the Lord has before us, the perspective we take to whatever the Lord calls us to do dramatically affects our approach, fruitfulness, and joy. I have seen numerous Missionaries burn out and become disheartened. I have also seen large Ministries get completely side-tracked and brought to rubble. “Minor” theology does matter, our actions may look the same but the perspective we take into those actions will make the difference in our effectiveness and in our longevity. Here are two personal experiences that come to mind…

Florence-hope in the midst of chaos and intense human pain

I met Florence during my first trip to Uganda. She was attending a week-long youth camp we held in central Uganda. Ugandan teenagers love to dance and sing and Florence was no exception; however several times throughout the week I took note of her exceptional joy. While Ugandan young people have great smiles many times the pain and hardship behind the smiles comes through just as strongly. Florence was different and I soon discovered why.

On Friday evening with the camp now complete, our teams were split up in two and paired off with two nationals for a tour of the surrounding village. I was excited to have Florence as my tour guide. As we walked along the roads, toured the sugar cane fields, slums, and countryside she sang happily and chatted non-stop. After visiting “her” home I discovered that she lived with her Aunt. I began asking questions about her family—her story shocked me and yet gave me hope for the youth of Uganda.

Florence grew up in Northern Uganda. One day she came home to find both of her parent’s dead (brutally killed by rebels with the LRA) and her younger brother kidnapped to become a child solider.  Florence described the incredible sadness she experienced, but then a sparkle returned to her eyes and she said: “Laura, BUT then I remembered that God was with me and He would always be with me forever.” And, with that she started happily singing again. 

I was incredibly convicted but also deeply encouraged—here was a girl who would no doubt be in and out of Psychiatric treatment for years if she was in North America. We would most likely never give her the prognosis of living a normal life; let alone being someone that had incredible joy and was focused on serving those around her. Florence’s testimony gave me a perspective that I carried through the entire rest of the six weeks as I was exposed to the intense poverty, abuse, civil war, and neglect of Ugandan youth. Seeing some of these things can be really disturbing—so many needs, so many people… and I’m just one person with very limited funds! However, Florence’s joy wasn’t based on a hand-out she had received—her joy and healing was based on a person, Jesus Christ.

This experience has stayed in my mind and has dramatically affected the approach I take to my life and work. I may not be able to solve all of their physical needs, but I can introduce them to the person that has promised them unconditional love, companionship, and an eternal home. That person, who as Florence said, would never leave and who would be with us forever. She was living for heaven, and was cheered along her journey with the companionship of Jesus.

John Piper describes the importance of doctrine in mission work—starting with those who are sent out and the approach they take with those they are trying to reach: “In other words, it is more clear to me now that doing missions without deep doctrinal transfer through patient teaching will not only wreck on the vast reefs of ignorance but will, at best, produce weak and ever-dependent churches. Therefore, pastors who care about building, sending, and going churches must give themselves to building sending bases that breed doctrinally-deep people who are not given to emotional dependency on fads but know how to feed themselves on Christ-centered truth.”

Lest you think that Compassion Ministry has no part in my beliefs, let’s go on to the next example…

“Derek”-responding to physical needs as an avenue to affirm Gods love and care

Awhile ago I served at a summer Bible camp for a week as the camp nurse. It was a fun being “Mom” to the campers and staff. As the week went on I soon learned that when you love these kids they “eat it up” and come back for more. A number of the campers paid me multiple daily visits—ever increasing in number and decreasing in real medical need! One of those kids is someone who I will call Derek.

“Derek” was sent to camp by the Children’s Aid Society, a foster kid. Derek wasn’t very well liked by the other kids and was behaviourally quite a handful for his counsellors.  One day he came saying he needed some band aids-his legs were pretty scratched from a hike. He then took off his shoes and showed me the multiple blisters and sores on his feet. Poor little guy, turns out that his shoes were two sizes too small and he had no socks. I cleaned and bandaged all as best as I could (never used that many band aids at one time before!) I encouraged him to wear his flip flops instead of his shoes. The next day my Aunt and Uncle came to visit the camp—I mentioned Derek’s need for new shoes. They promptly ran into town and happily purchased him a pair of “dime-store” shoes for $14.99. I went and found Derek and explained that someone had bought him some shoes. He was thrilled and questioned if he would really get to keep them. After I affirmed they were his to keep—he excitedly exclaimed: “now I’ll have new shoes for school!” As I tied up the laces I told him that every time he saw his shoes I wanted him to remember what Uncle Charlie had talked about in chapel-about how much God loved him. Derek thought deeply for a moment and then said looking at his shoes “God must love me extra special!” He happily ran off with his new shoes and I got a little teary. A simple act, a $14.99 pair of shoes, was used by God to affirm His love and care to a needy kid.

An example of Missions in action—Dr. Nelson Bell, focused on Christ but active in compassion

I’ve been reading Foreign Devil in China the biography of a Surgeon Dr. Nelson Bell. Several times throughout the fascinating ministry at “Love & Mercy Hospital”, Dr. Bell faced the tension of balancing compassion ministry with his primary spiritual purpose—evangelism. 

One crisis Dr. Bell dealt with was when the government of China began to require that all schools become registered; part of that registration would be removing the primary place the gospel and God’s Word had in the school they ran. Dr. Bell said: “If we must relegate the worship of God and the teaching of His Word to a secondary place, what justification do we have for running these schools? It is not our duty to bring secular education to the Chinese… I had rather resign from the mission than permit such a thing to be, for it means denying God and His Word as the primary motive of our educational work.” Dr. Bell ended up choosing to close down the school and in a speech explained the reasoning behind his position said: “I cannot agree because, first, the church in all nations is now being tested, and God is using this particular test in China. To agree would be to follow the way of the world, away from Him. Secondly, because the Bible, the Sword of the Spirit, should be in front of us as our active agent for Christian warfare…Thirdly, because the name of Christ must be excluded from the school in every way. This is of Satan, as he hates that name above all others.”  Oh, if only we as Christians today had this boldness in facing the current social pressure and “separation” of church and state.

The second crisis they later dealt with was a call from some for an “end to preaching” within the medical ministry: “urging that the Spirit of Christ be manifested solely by mode of life.” Dr. Bell responded in a written article: It is unthinkable… that one should go as a missionary and have in ones heart the knowledge of God, His Son our Savior, and offer which He makes of eternal life to all who believe and then remain silent. Now can I imagine greater conceit than to imagine that one, by one’s own force of personality and attractiveness, could win one soul to Christ? God uses the witness of the Christ-like life, and there is not a missionary in China who is not praying and daily striving, by Gods grace, so to live and act that He may be glorified, but the fact remains that we are told that it is the preaching of the cross, the gospel of redemption from sin through faith in the shed blood of the Savior, which is the ‘power of God.’”  Dr. Bell remained active in compassionate medical service, but was motivated by a desire to use every possible opportunity to preach the gospel. His courage and zeal to have Christ remain primary in his work and ministry brought about amazing lasting fruit.

Yesterday the Pastor spoke on 2 Chronicles 34. I have heard the story of Josiah multiple times—however he pointed out that God’s Word wasn’t lost in society-it was lost in the house of God. Society only follows what we the church do. As Christians how much do we really value Gods Word? Are we faithful to it, do we believe it is essential for our life? To use a theology term—do we believe in the “sufficiency of Scripture?” In the ministry we do—do we give it the primary place believing that it is essential for effectiveness? All too often we humans get wrapped up in what we can (and cannot) do with the resources, talent and time we have—and somehow we lose God in it all.

My conclusion: Our motivation for compassion ministry must be to connect these people themselves with the life-giving source, to Jesus Christ Himself. We can and must honour Christ by actions of compassion, we must be faithful to take and seek out opportunities to speak of Him and His Word; however the result of these actions is dependent upon the place we give God’s Word—it is the catalyst for enduring spiritual fruit.

Showing Christ’s love brings happiness, but being part of someone finding Christ for themselves brings abounding joy!