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The long reach

By Randy Hurst

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 Christ.

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.

Historically, many 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 real.

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 message.

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.

Randy Hurst is director of Assemblies of God World Missions Media/Advancement.

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1Mark 8:36, NASB

2Hebrews 2:10, NASB

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