The last post on Life Untangled was about strategic prayer and there is certainly more to say on that subject. But, a reader asked a question, going back to the subject of strategic giving, that I felt was important enough to warrant another posting on that subject. The question had to do with church giving, specifically related to the loyalty that we should show to our own neighborhood versus the need to give to missions and overseas ministry.
When I thought about the question, I immediately remembered the story of the Good Samaritan, because that beautiful story was prompted by the statement that the greatest commandments were to #1, Love God, and #2, Love your neighbor. This resulted in the question that is at the heart of this posting: “Who is my neighbor?”
The story is simple: A man was traveling near Jerusalem but was attacked, robbed and left for dead. Two Jewish religious leaders passed him by, but a foreigner helped him. Jesus concluded the story by asking, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The answer was, “The one who had mercy on him,” and Jesus, apparently agreeing with that answer, replied, “Go and do likewise.”
If you have a minute, re-read this story (Luke 10:25 – 37) and realize how beautiful and poignant it is. The story is only recorded by Luke, who happens to be a Dr!
Webster’s dictionary defines “neighbor” as: a person living near another, and we are so used to thinking of the term in that way that we may miss the fact that, in the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus completely shattered that definition. Webster’s is wrong!
The two men that were not neighbors, in the story, were the men of the same nationality that lived near the hurting man and walked right by him. The neighbor, on the other hand, didn’t live near the man in need. The term and concept of neighbor isn’t defined by the proximity of the person receiving the aid, but by the acts of the person giving the aid. If you mail food to a hungry person at the South pole, you are that person’s neighbor and they are yours.
News article: Ebola virus disease–Democratic Republic of the Congo
This past week saw a marked increase in the number of Ebola virus disease (EVD) cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During the last 21 days (13 March to 2 April 2019), 57 health areas within 12 health zones reported new cases.
If you live in a developed country, this is particularly important. For example, if you live in Birmingham, Alabama, the people living near you, even those that the neighborhood considers as poor, probably have several changes of clothes, many pairs of shoes, and many have a television, a smart phone, and so much food that they are obese (Alabama has one of the highest obesity rates in the world). On average, they will live twenty years longer than those in under-developed countries.
News article from Yemen: “This deadly cholera outbreak is the direct consequence of two years of heavy conflict. Collapsing health, water and sanitation systems have cut off 14.5 million people from regular access to clean water and sanitation, increasing the ability of the disease to spread. Rising rates of malnutrition have weakened children’s health and made them more vulnerable to disease. An estimated 30,000 dedicated local health workers who play the largest role in ending this outbreak have not been paid their salaries for nearly 10 months.” The outbreak is of an “unprecedented scale”, according to the World Health Organization, one of the worst in recorded history.”
I took a thirty minute drive today and saw three Rolls Royce cars. That is the kind of people in my neighborhood. I love them, but I’m not giving them any of my money. As a steward of the money that God designates to pass through my hands, I try to make myself a neighbor to the neediest people on the earth; people in war, famine, disasters and those lacking access to clean water, sanitation, food and health services. I become their neighbor when I show mercy to them with God’s money.
News article: Conflict in Africa could exacerbate the magnitude and severity of food crises in five countries and regions that already have some of the world’s greatest emergency food needs, a new report has found. . . . nearly 25 million people across these areas are food insecure, with more than 6 million people suffering at “emergency” or “catastrophe” levels. Countries such as South Sudan, DRC, and CAR saw a deteriorating food security situation at the end of 2018, while Somalia and the Lake Chad Basin saw improvement — however, all are expected to see negative trends during spring and fall this year.
I don’t do it anymore, but for fifteen years I traveled into many areas of Africa and Asia in the midst of famine and war. When people told me “thank you,” I had a standard reply: “Please don’t thank me. I am a disciple of Jesus. He knows about your suffering and he sent me here to help you because he loves you. Also, these medicines and my salary are paid by Christians and churches that care about you and want to help.”
Believe me. Being able to say true things like that went a long way in sharing the gospel later. These were all Muslim areas and the wealthy Muslim countries around them were just sending them copies of the Quran and were building them mosques.
Let’s be honest. If you live in a Christianized place, in a developed country, there are tons of churches and Christians that are available to help the people in your neighborhood. But most of them have never heard about the world’s disasters and aren’t really interested in them because they are too far away. Let us be different. God has blessed many of us in an inordinate way so, let’s become neighbors to the most hurting people of the world.
Thank you for writing this. It is really helpful. I really like the definition of neighbor that you used and you how illustrated that. I learn a lot from your posts and they are great topics for conversation with friends. I had a follow up question. Most of what you talk about in the article is using money for physical poverty. What if we are giving money to organizations in a neighborhood that focus on spiritual poverty? In talking about tithing in church we don’t want to give cash to neighbors, we want to give money to organizations that are working to share the gospel with the community…granted while helping with physical problems. Thinking about that in your post, you said you wouldn’t give money to the people in your neighborhood, but would you support a missionary working in your neighborhood? Or a Christian NGO? Or something along those lines? Would love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for your reply, Kate. Your point is well taken and is at a complexity level higher than what I was covering in my post. All of us want to do what the Bible says regarding giving, but it doesn’t tell us exactly what to do. In The Good Samaritan, Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” so we know to go and show mercy to people that are hurting. He also commands us to make disciples of all nations.
For our first fifteen years overseas, we worked on the above principles and tried to find people that were the most unengaged with the gospel, and who were suffering physically. I did a lot of work in refugee camps (my favorite thing to do) and worked in places of famine and war.
Over the years, we saw “missionaries,” –and I put that word in quotes because that is the term that people in America would call them, but they would never use that term for themselves–moving into those places and doing a much better job of meeting physical and spiritual needs.
As I have stated in past posts, I am also focused on the question of, what does the church need to do to make the way ready for Jesus to come back. That is the only way to put an end to the endless line of suffering. And that brings us to your question.
So, yes, as a church please remember missionaries trying to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, reaching those that are physically rich, but spiritually destitute.
My summary, then, would be that the church should prioritize:
1. The family of faith–people in the church with physical needs (this is a Pauline priority).
2. Making disciples of all nations.
3. Disasters, preferably among unengaged peoples.
What do you guys think? I would love to hear your thought processes.
Great article, Chuck. I have been wrestling with strategic giving a lot lately, and I feel similar convictions. Let me know if you know of any practical ways to connect with needs in any of these areas (specifically Yemen or Chad).
Praying for you. I love catching tidbits from Leigh and Kyle.
Please write to me on personal email as I do have some ideas doe Yemen and Chas.