The catastrophic Ethiopian famine
in 1984-85 claimed more than 1 million lives. This year’s food shortages
are the worst since then. An extensive drought has destroyed three successive
harvests. The occasional rains have come too late to rescue crops. Water wells
are drying up in many areas of southern Ethiopia; hundreds of thousands of
animals have already died.
The drought also has contributed
to spreading wildfire that has burned more than 173,000 acres of forest. At
least 11 million Ethiopians face severe hunger and even starvation in the
coming year. Some experts predict that the coming Ethiopian famine will significantly
surpass the severity of the 1984-85 famine.
But there is a difference in Ethiopia
since that last historic catastrophe. Eighteen years ago, the country was
under communism. Now the Christian church is free, not only to reach out a
hand of compassion to the starving, but also to share the message of Jesus
Compassion ministry through AG
Relief is always integrated with sharing the gospel and establishing the church.
Whether giving medical care to the suffering or feeding the hungry, our missionaries
always attempt in some way to share the good news about Jesus and connect
people with a church.
missions organizations have diluted their purpose and ultimately
degenerated into agencies of mere social reform at the exclusion
of proclaiming the gospel. But we believe Jesus’ words:
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world,
and forfeit his soul?”1 Feeding the
poor and caring for the suffering are both kind and Christian.
But if we must choose between ministering to physical needs alone
or doing so while presenting the gospel and providing a spiritual
family where people can grow in Christ, the choice is clear. Unless
the needs of a person’s eternal soul are addressed, any
effort to meet his or her physical and social needs is incomplete
and temporary. Our mission is to enter into our Lord’s work
of “bringing many sons to glory.”2
In some countries, especially in
recent years, relief efforts have been the means through which doors have
opened to the gospel. Compassionate response to disasters and even civil wars
has resulted in believers being born into Christ’s eternal kingdom and
churches being established.
In the last few years, the world
has been pummeled by crises caused by both natural disasters and war. Ethnic
hostilities in Bosnia; economic collapse and civil unrest in Indonesia; floods
and hurricanes in Mexico, Peru, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and
Bangladesh; a volcanic eruption in Ecuador; a major earthquake in Turkey —
each took a heavy toll in lives and property. Some of these tragedies were
overlooked by the American media, but the suffering they caused was no less
Congregations and individuals from
the United States gave generously through AG Relief to help in each of these
disasters. Thousands were ministered to, both physically and spiritually.
With a network of more than 236,000
local congregations in more than 198 nations, the Assemblies of God is strategically
situated to respond to catastrophes. In times of crisis, missionaries and
national believers are the most efficient means of distributing relief and
providing medical care. When disaster strikes, missionaries and local believers
are already in place to touch poor and suffering people with Christ’s
compassion and share the gospel in word and deed. Because they are on-site,
they act more quickly and effectively than relief agencies that come on the
scene, usually weeks or months after the initial, greatest needs have passed.
Times of calamity aren’t
over. The occurrence of major disasters is steadily increasing. Every day
more people are starving, more people are suffering, more people are dying.
Without funds on hand, AG Relief
cannot provide help in the critical first moments after disaster strikes.
Givers to AG Relief are a “relief response team” who make it possible
for suffering people to be helped quickly after disasters occur. Overseas
disasters are opportunities for Christians in the United States to hold up
the hands of fellow believers in crisis and reach the lost with Christ’s
Out of the rubble of crises, God
is raising up His Church. In times of hopelessness, people are drawn to the
peace and hope they find in Christ. Churches in disaster-stricken areas are
growing rapidly as missionaries and local believers reach out to the suffering
with the compassion of Christ.
AG Relief enables the Fellowship
to accomplish together what cannot be done separately —
providing the long reach that spans the distance between responsive
hearts and desperate needs.
Hurst is director of Assemblies of God World Missions Media/Advancement.
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1Mark 8:36, NASB
2Hebrews 2:10, NASB