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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Simply because it is Christian to nurse the sick

Read on World Magazine Blog, a post by Bergin dated 22 January 2005:
Many Christians are incensed at recent Muslim threats against those tsunami-relief workers aiming to evangelize devastated people. Groups like World Vision International, however, never intended to proselytize, rendering such stern warnings irrelevant. “Our hope is that our work will open people up to a deeper understanding of who God is,” said World Vision staffer Tim Dearborn. Global Christianity expert Dana Robert believes Dearborn’s method and that of World Vision has proven successful as far back as the Roman Empire: “Because Christians believed in the resurrection of the body and in Jesus as a healer, they went in and nursed the sick. Those who were nursed were more likely to become a Christian. Was that a strategy? No. It was part of what it meant to be a Christian.”
I followed their link and found an interesting article entitled Christians serving in tsunami-ravaged Asia seeing gospel spread by their acts, not by preaching. The main argument is that many, or even most of the Christian groups that have done much humanitarian work, know and follow the theory: "Do good works, and local interest in the motivating faith might follow."
In providing relief as a sign of God's unconditional love, missionaries have at times laid groundwork for thousands of religious conversions, according to Todd Johnson, the director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological School. But he adds a cautionary note, especially for a region marked by passionate adherence to Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism: If relief workers are perceived to have ulterior motives, good relationships can abruptly turn sour.
(Italics mine)

I believe that many Christians do know this piece of simple psychology: that if one serves with an ambiguous agenda, one will be suspect. Believers are called to be as wise as serpents too. That is why Christians must be especially sensitive and know exactly what their specific mission is (see this earlier post), when providing relief in places where another religion--in the case of the recent tsunami disaster, Islam--is dominant and often jealously guarded.

To return to the comment from Dr. Dana Robert (quoted in the article and in Bergin's post reproduced above) which inspired the title of this post, I fail to see and hesitate to endorse her connection between Christians' belief in the resurrection of the body and in Jesus as a healer, and their participation in the relief effort. My agreement with her basic and more general point also does not mean a blanket endorsement of her theology or that of her organisation's (I would need to know more about it to begin with--). All the same, I think that one specific point she makes worth stressing: "Those who were nursed were more likely to become a Christian. Was that a strategy? No. It was part of what it meant to be a Christian: to nurse the sick."

The article ends with some historical examples of how God has been pleased to bless the long-term work of genuinely humanitarian-minded Christians and mission groups in places like Korea and Thailand.

And as I concluded in my comments on World Magazine Blog, there is a proper season for everything even as Christians are enjoined to "preach the word...in season and out of season" (2 Timothy 4:2a). There is a time to do good work silently, and a time to proclaim the gospel boldly. One must be sensitive to the Spirit's leading, to be wise as one is zealous. If one enters a country as a missionary, do the work of a missionary. If one enters as a humanitarian aid worker, do the work of an aid worker--and do that well, for His name's sake. If there comes good opportunity to preach the word (and it is hard to come up with more precise guidelines), "reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction." (2 Timothy 4:2b) May God grant His people the desire to obey Him, and the wisdom to do right and glorify His name.


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