By Randy Hurst
Why is it right that we offer relief to the poor and suffering, especially in times of crisis and disaster?
God’s Word commands us, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in the power of your hand to do so.”1 As in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Spirit of Christ within us does not permit us to pass “by on the other side”2 when someone is in need. If we do, it reveals something tragic about the character of our hearts.
In the Good Samaritan account, the man who fell among thieves was half dead and unable to help himself. Today when disaster and calamity strike, people are often put in a similarly precarious position.
We, as followers of Christ, have the opportunity to come alongside and do as the Good Samaritan did. There is no indication in Scripture that the Samaritan assumed financial responsibility for the man for the rest of his life, but he gave the help needed until the man recovered.
Historically, many missions organizations have diluted their purpose, making it 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?”3
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 place of spiritual growth, 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.”4
The answer to the greatest need in people’s lives is found in God’s Word. The gospel of Christ sets spiritual captives free from the penalty of sin and death and offers forgiveness and everlasting life. It is the solution for man’s crisis for eternity and directs our life in this world. Throughout history, the greatest solutions to human suffering have come when the truth of God’s Word and Christ’s message is proclaimed and taught.
How can relief efforts make a difference? Here are five ways:
Impact: Relief efforts enable our missionaries and national churches to make a visible impact in a way that serves as a great testimony, particularly in countries and places where traditional overt evangelism is restricted or prohibited.
Inclusion: Relief efforts include missionaries who may not be part of a social or medical profession. Missionaries serving primarily as church planters or Bible school teachers can hand out bags of rice or fill bottles with purified water to meet temporary desperate needs without being diverted from their primary callings.
Integration: Relief administered by Assemblies of God World Missions is integrated with sharing the gospel and establishing the church. Whether giving medical care to the suffering or feeding the hungry, our missionaries always attempt to share the good news about Jesus and connect people with a church.
Efficiency: We can’t possibly meet all the overwhelming physical needs in this world, but we can help in significant ways in the most desperate temporary circumstances. With a network of more than 283,000 local congregations in more than 212 nations and territories, the Assemblies of God is strategically situated to reach out when catastrophes occur.
In times of crisis, missionaries and national believers are the most efficient means of distributing food and water and providing medical care. They are already in place to touch poor and suffering people with Christ’s compassion and share the gospel in word and deed.
Opportunity: In Chinese, the word for “crisis” is a combination of two words — danger and opportunity. Fear focuses on the danger. Faith sees the opportunity. In the crisis spots of our world, God opens doors of opportunity for us to demonstrate His love and proclaim the message of Jesus.
Sometimes national crises, whether they be civil wars or natural disasters, afford us an opportunity to minister in places where sharing the gospel is limited. For example, an earthquake struck in a country where American missionaries cannot preach publicly or establish churches or Bible schools. The need for immediate medical help opened a door of opportunity for American health care professionals to go and minister to the suffering.
AGWM sent a HealthCare Ministries team to offer medical care. While there, the team members could neither pray with people nor give them a tract or verbal witness of Christ. Nevertheless, people associated their presence with Christian believers in that country.
The HealthCare team provided a platform for local believers to witness to their friends and neighbors. This opportunity was made possible by the compassionate ministry and relief efforts of the HealthCare team.
Some people point out that relief efforts provide only a temporary solution. However, if it is in the power of our hand to do something, we must obey God’s Word and not withhold the good that can be done in the love of Christ when crises occur.
Missionaries have testified about the impact relief efforts have made following major disasters. Relief accelerates the ability to advance the message and testimony of the Church in a short period of time.
A major disaster recently opened the door for ministry in a vast area where our missionaries have never been able to penetrate with any sort of Christian witness. Not only were initial physical needs of food and clothing met, but destroyed buildings were rebuilt. To local residents, these buildings represent lasting testimonies to the compassion of Christians. As a result, the Church is being established in this area.
Unfortunately, the occurrence of major disasters is steadily increasing. Every day more people are starving, suffering and dying. As with the Good Samaritan, we must not pass by when someone is in need.
Those who give to AG Relief are a “relief response team” that makes it possible for suffering people to receive the help they need. 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 the gospel.
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.
Out of the rubble of crises, God is raising up His Church. Facing hopeless circumstances, 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. In times of need, relief is the right thing to do.
1 Proverbs 3:27, NKJV 2 Luke 10:32, NKJV 3 Mark 8:36, NASB 4 Hebrews 2:10, NASB
RANDY HURST is communications director of Assemblies of God World Missions.
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