With a lot of discussion this week surrounding how Christians are active in eradicating global poverty and need, I thought I’d keep us in this same vein of thought and conversation. So here’s the question of the day in two parts: Why do we serve those in need and how did we come to our current mindset of how we actively participate in this endeavor?
For me, there are two great books that have helped me work through both a local and global mindset of serving those in need. The first is Tim Keller’s “Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road.” Keller does a great job of laying out a theology of mercy ministries that serves as a foundation for action. This is where I think a lot of people head down a wrong path. They are solely led by their hearts when it comes to serving those in need, which means instead of finding a place they can serve that leads to longterm relationships and lasting change they jump from project to project like a frog on a hot griddle being led more by whatever pulls their heartstrings at that moment than by a deep sense of conviction and vision.
I see this most clearly with churches around the nation who send thousands of dollars oversees in missionary support but have no in depth understanding of what their dollars are doing and if their stewardship is actually helping or producing any fruit. I have been encouraged lately by a number of churches who are narrowing down their support by focusing their efforts on more specific causes and regions in order to stay highly engaged on the work they are partnering with and undertaking. This also happens at the local level where we don’t take time to really understand the city in which we live and the unique problems that we face. Poverty comes in all shapes and sizes and we have a responsibility to understand our unique community and how we can best serve those in need to see change take place. Poverty isn’t just a problem, it’s people we are talking about. People just like you and me created in the image of God with dignity and purpose.
A few weeks back I wrote about the three categories I work through when I create goals or vision statements being the head, heart, and hands. The same should be applied as we approach mercy ministries. We want to have a clear understanding and foundation for why we are doing this needed work in order for us to stay the course, especially when it becomes uncomfortable and difficult. But we don’t want our reasoning to stay in our head, we want it to flow into our hearts where our emotions are engaged and our passions are ignited. This commingling conceives and gives birth to action through our hands.
Keller does a solid job of taking us through all three aspects in light of all of the opportunities right under our noses. While the needs around the world are vast we must be mindful of the needs right around the corner. I find it disheartening that many of us who reside in the modern world have a bit of a love affair with giving to needs around the world yet we have a distaste for the needy we come in contact with on a daily basis. This reveals a deep issue with our hearts and shows that we are really only interested in giving to make ourselves feel good instead of sacrificing deeply to see change and transformation.
The second book that I read recently before my trip to Ethiopia was by Steven Corbett and Brian Fikkert titled, “When Helping Hurts”. The authors do a great job of walking through many of the things we do, not just on a global level but also on the local level, that actually increase the problems of poverty and need instead of bringing help. This became really evident as I traveled throughout Ethiopia and saw firsthand and spoke with leaders who work daily in bringing help and change to millions of people in need.
My trip to Ethiopia changed me and is continuing to produce a harvest of fruit in my mind, my heart, and my actions as I work through being an active agent of service to those in need, both around the world and around the corner.
What does serving those in need look like to you? Have you laid a firm foundation in your mind that has impacted your heart and led your hands to action?