And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. Matthew 4:23
Ministries of compassion and mercy
In his 2001 book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born, Dr. James Kennedy explores such topics as Christ’s impact on world history, on the value of human life, on education, on the founding of America, on economics, on arts and music, and on the family. He comes to the conclusion that “had Jesus never been born, this world would be far more miserable than it is.”
This truth is perhaps most evident in the area of ministries of compassion and mercy to the “least of these” among us (Matthew 25:31-46).
Christianity’s contribution to helping the poor, Dr. Kennedy asserts, is unparalleled: “the Church of Jesus Christ has done more – and often still does more – than any other institution in history to alleviate poverty. Furthermore, it has set the pattern for relief that is copied worldwide. From Third World orphanages to inner-city rescue missions to the Salvation Army providing shelter for a family whose home just went up in flames, the sun never sets on Christians – individually and corporately – meeting human needs in the name of Jesus. It was He who gave us the example in the first place, and He taught us to imitate Him.”
A mission of healing
I recently had occasion to think about Dr. Kennedy’s words as my husband and I once again traveled to the Dominican Republic to participate in a week-long medical mission. As usual, our team addressed common medical, dental, and vision problems of people too poor to afford such services; and in seven clinic days, we treated over a thousand patients, both Dominican and Haitian, who have little or no access to healthcare.
People always ask what we do on these trips, and the answer is that our work is pretty basic. The dentist cleans or pulls teeth; the eye-glass technicians fit people with new reading glasses; and the doctors and nurses treat common ailments – such as everyday aches-and-pains, high blood pressure, fungal and bacterial infections, colds, allergies, and acid indigestion. On rare occasions, we will see more severe injuries, infections, and illnesses; and if it’s something our doctors and nurses can’t treat, we try to help financially so the person can go to a local medical facility.
Since I work in the pharmacy, I spend most of my time handing out bags of pills (lovingly counted, bagged, and labeled by friends back in the States) in accordance with what the medical team prescribes. My greatest challenge is giving instructions (“once a day,” “twice a day,” “with food,” etc.) in Creole, French, or Spanish. If the instructions are more complicated, I rely on my translator to explain how patients should take their medications. What I do is not particularly difficult, though the days are long; the conditions often hot, cramped, and noisy; and the number of people needing treatment endless. The hardest part of any day is when we have to stop because there are always more needy people than we have the time or energy to help.
The situation is made even harder when we remember that all we do – no matter how useful or well-intentioned – only benefits people temporarily. The medicine will run out, new aches and pains will replace the old, and more serious illnesses will come. In time, everyone we saw over Thanksgiving week will die – just like all the people Jesus healed when He was on earth.
So why bother? Because – as James Kennedy reminds us – when it comes to “meeting human needs,” Jesus “gave us the example in the first place, and He taught us to imitate Him.”
A mission of healing and proclaiming
Imitating Jesus, however, means more than just healing the sick: every medical mission must do more than offer medical help. We must also proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom – just as Jesus did (Matthew 4:23). While the healing He brought about did not last any more than ours will last, He promises that the salvation which results when people place their trust in Him will last forever (John 3:16; John 5:35-40).
For this reason, every member of our team is devoted to presenting the Gospel to our patients. In addition to dealing with their physical needs, we attend to their most pressing spiritual need: we ask them whether they are Christian. Since we work with local churches, most of our patients have already made this eternally important decision. However, because the clinics draw people from throughout a local neighborhood, we care for many non-Christians as well.
If someone says they are not a Christian, we spend as much time as necessary to present the Gospel and to engage them in a “why not?” conversation. The two most common excuses we heard this time (it varies trip to trip) were “It’s not the right time” and “I’m not ready.” And though we reminded them that no one is guaranteed tomorrow, and therefore today is the best day to be saved (2 Corinthians 6:2), not everyone was convinced. In those cases, we smiled, assured them that God loves them, and prayed over them before they left.
The best part of each day was when the sub-groups (medical, dental, vision, and pharmacy) reported on how many decisions were made for Christ. During our last trip, 114 patients became Christians. And while our team cannot be there to fulfill the disciple-making part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19), we are confident that the local pastors and church leaders will pick up where our Kingdom work ended.
Every mission trip thus reminds me that when it comes to building the Kingdom, it takes the efforts of many Christians working under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit – from those back home who bag pills, provide financial support, and pray … to those on the field who are reaping a harvest of souls (Matthew 9:37-38) … to those who are ministering locally in order to “excel in building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12). We all have a role to play. The tasks may be enormous, and we may feel totally inadequate in the face of all that needs to be accomplished. However, as a former pastor of my church likes to say, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” The only question is what “something” God is calling us individually and collectively to do.
A strong witness
Dr. Kennedy argues that the Church’s mission of compassion and mercy makes a strong and positive impression on non-Christians; it’s the best “pre-witnessing” tool we have because it shows people the love of Christ in a way that they can neither dismiss nor ignore. The good news is that we don’t have to travel far to find opportunities to participate in such missions.
If you are not already involved in reaching the “least of these” in your own community, talk with your pastor about what your local church is doing – tutoring at a local grade school, taking meals to shut-ins, offering rides to the elderly, visiting those in the hospital or the local jail, providing food and shelter for the homeless, or acting as foster parents to abused children. Get involved. Do something. However, never forget that the tangible help you offer is secondary to the spiritual. Don’t just witness with your life, proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom – use words – every chance you get.
Someone’s eternal destiny depends on it.
In our increasingly hostile culture, we often hear Christianity attacked for all the supposed harm it has done. Learn how to counter those claims by reading Dr. Kennedy’s book so you will have facts to back up his assertion that the world is far better off with Christians in it. More importantly, live your own life in such a way that you can speak from experience about the Christianity’s positive contributions.
Order Dr. Kennedy’s book, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?, from our online store. You might also like to read the article, “Overcoming Evil with Good,” by T. M. Moore.