Connections: Cynthia Thomas
June 29, 2014
Cynthia Thomas serves as the administrative coordinator to Compassion Ministries for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions, working alongside Administrator of Field Operations Tim Hager and AGUSM Executive Director Zollie L. Smith Jr. to facilitate the Compassionate Missionary Council and AGUSM resource website to reach out to people and communities in need. Thomas has experience serving in pregnancy care centers, domestic violence shelters, and community resource centers. She is a firm believer in the need for the local church to get involved in such ministry.
evangel: What prompted U.S. Missions to start its own compassionate initiative?
CYNTHIA THOMAS: The initiative was birthed out of the heart of Executive Director Zollie Smith. Zollie was deeply impacted by Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus says that if His disciples do good works for “the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (v. 40, NLT). The passage goes on to say that if we don’t help these people, Jesus will say that He never knew us.
Zollie realized U.S. Missions was poised to make ministry to the “least of these” happen in America right now. A number of U.S. missionaries, chaplains and project volunteers are already engaged in ministry involving compassion, so it makes sense to network their experience and expertise with resources to help them be even more productive, as well as with churches and people who want to get involved and be trained in similar ministry.
The U.S. Missions Resource Center was implemented in 2011 with those goals in mind. What began as a heart for compassion turned into the Compassionate Missionary Council.
evangel: Why is there a need for compassion-based ministries in the U.S.?
THOMAS: The United States is a huge mission field and full of challenges. For example, in 2012 more than 46.5 million people in the U.S. were in poverty. On any given night that year, more than 610,000 people in the U.S. were homeless. Human trafficking is a big profit industry in the U.S. Tens of thousands of children are in foster care.
In a recent Pentecostal Evangel interview, Zollie remarked on the importance of identifying the most appropriate way to communicate the gospel message, and sometimes an act of compassion is that best way. Jesus clearly had this focus while He ministered on Earth, as evidenced by His many acts of healing. The Scriptures commanding that His followers help the poor and needy indicate He hasn’t changed His mind.
evangel: Whom is U.S. Missions reaching with Compassion Ministries?
THOMAS: Our missionaries, chaplains, project volunteers, and all the ministries represented on the Compassionate Missionary Council, are reaching orphans and foster kids, the homeless and poor, those struggling with addictions, prisoners and their families, the disabled, the blind or deaf, and those victimized by human trafficking, to name a few. By resourcing those workers and linking them to interested churches to train others, we are helping to expand the reach to those groups.
evangel: What ministries are represented through the Compassionate Missionary Council (CMC)?
THOMAS: The CMC is made up of the AGUSM executive director, administrators, national intercultural director, national chaplaincy director, the resource/compassion coordinator, five missionaries or chaplains, three pastors, and three experts in various compassion ministry areas.
The present membership represents ministry or expertise in disabilities ministry, adoption and foster care ministry, urban and rural poverty ministry, Native American ministry, human trafficking prevention, ministry to prisoners and their families, and ministry to the blind and deaf.
In addition to the overall mission of AGUSM Compassion Ministries, CMC members help provide information for our resource and networking website, www.agusmresources.ag.org. They each commit to being available to speak to and train others, make compassion ministry information available at their respective district events, and network among themselves to help develop best practices for ministry growth. It’s all about doing what we can to equip the saints to reach the lost.
evangel: Many churches have their own forms of compassionate ministries. Why did AGUSM feel there was a need to start one through its missionaries and ministries?
THOMAS: The Assemblies of God considers compassion a key component in fulfilling the Great Commission, as evidenced in the 53rd General Council decision to adopt Compassion as its fourth reason for being. It makes sense that many AG churches already have great compassionate outreach, and we’re not trying to replace that or outdo it; in fact, quite the opposite — we want to network with those churches and learn from their expertise or help them expand even further into new areas of compassion.
U.S. Missions by its very nature has long connected compassion and reaching people for Christ. For example, some of our missionaries to Native Americans address alcoholism and poverty on reservations in order to establish ministry; those working with foster kids must deal with the emotional and financial challenges kids face as they “age out” of the system. As our missionaries feel called to take the gospel to specific groups, compassion ministry flows naturally.
For churches that don’t yet have compassionate ministry established — either because they are unaware of the need or because they don’t know how to get started — a U.S. missionary can provide valuable knowledge and training.
evangel: How can churches and laypeople get involved in AGUSM Compassion Ministries?
THOMAS: People can get involved by contacting the CMC members and missionaries featured on the website for training and volunteer opportunities, or by contacting email@example.com or by calling me here at the National Leadership and Resource Center (417-862-2781). My favorite type of phone call is to hear about how God has given someone a burden for ministry and then be able to put them in touch with a U.S. missionary who can help them get started.
God is not done with America, so we’re going to keep working, partnering with the local church to show compassion to the least of these, so that none perish!