Have you ever had someone ask you why you are involved in missions? Whenever new acquaintances find out about my most recent travels, I get a lot of interesting responses. Maybe you have friends, especially non-believing friends, that wonder why you give up a week or two of your vacation to go to a place that is likely hot, stinky, and lacking the comforts to which we are accustomed? How do you describe the uniqueness of a short-term mission trip and express the motivation that comes from a calling from Jesus?
Honestly, I think what hooked me was compassion for people who don't have access to what they need to survive. This may sound funny, but I actually felt a little guilty when I realized this was my motivation when I first got involved in missions. It somehow felt if my first priority wasn't to tell people about Jesus then I was prioritizing someone's physical health above their salvation. Does that describe you? Do you love helping people regardless of what country they are in but have a difficult time telling them about Jesus?
While it's not okay to neglect sharing the gospel, it is okay to be compelled to serve those who are in great need. Why? Because we should be offended when the world is not as it was created to be! God did not create the world to be a fallen, broken, painful place. Since we are made in the image of God, and we have his law stamped on our hearts (Rom 2:15), we should recognize that which displeases God and do something about it! God is even more pained than we are to see children starving, people dying from preventable illnesses, and grief over death. So if we don't recognize where the world is going astray and fight to bring it back, then there is something wrong with us! May God break our hearts for what breaks His!
Unfortunately, we often take a short-cut when it comes to serving those for whom we have so much compassion. Instead of treating causes we treat symptoms. Treating symptoms is easy. We can usually treat a symptom with money or materials. It doesn't require relationship, risk, or pain. By simply throwing money at a problem, we just deepen dependency. Or sometimes in our zeal to fix a "broken situation," we actually encourage a destructive cycle. Sometimes in our efforts to help, we end up hurting.
I just finished reading When Helping Hurts: how to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor and yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. It is a very affordable book and loaded with insight. If you have not read it yet, you need to get your hands on it! The book is built on the foundation that poverty is more than just lacking material possessions and treating it requires more than just giving somebody a meal or a house, or a piece of clothing. According to the authors, poverty is the state of being out of balance in your relationships to God, yourself, others, and the rest of creation (work). This suggests that poverty is not just a physical state but a spiritual state!
If poverty can also be a spiritual state, that means you could also be living in poverty! Therefore, poverty alleviation is more than just filling a person's stomach or clothing their back. The book's definition for poverty elimination is "working to reconcile the four foundational relationships (God, self, others, creation) so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work." I want to challenge you to begin viewing helping people differently. What would it look like to bring the whole person fully back in line with their Maker?
The authors use a great balance of teaching and storytelling to think through the causes of poverty, how we sometimes make it worse when we help, and how we can address helping people in a better way. As always, if you would like to discuss this book or how to implement its ideas, I am always available. You can contact me at 520-404-0841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.