Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Just Because

In the 1980’s I was working in the Turkana district in the northwest of Kenya. Turkana is always on the fridge of catastrophe as the nomadic herdsmen roam the desert looking for pasture for their cattle, goats and camels. What little rain they receive in a year is barely enough to keep life and limb together -- two years of drought and they face severe famine.

It was just such a desperate time that I was working as a church planter alongside Turkana Christians. Along with giving the Bread of Life, we attempted to alleviate some of the physical hardships by taking a ton of corn meal down into the district twice a month as well as powdered milk provided by a NGO group from the U.S. Our efforts were a mere drop in the bucket to the ravages of famine and disease.

I still remember a crusty old guy from the U.K. working in Turkana who was very critical of churches. He worked for with a UN irrigation scheme in the area and made no bones about how that the church should be more concerned with the saving of lives rather than souls. “All of these churches, which stand empty throughout the week, should be turned into storage bins for the crops that are rotting in the fields,” he said with disdain. “What good are these churches when the people are suffering?”

Convicted by the Englishmen’s comments I asked a friend of mine, who was primarily involved in social action, if perhaps he wasn’t right? Maybe we should turn our attention the man’s physical needs rather than their spiritual needs. He advised against it saying, “There will always be more people wanting to feed the hungry than telling people about Christ,” he said. “Keep doing what you’re doing and let others take on the task of feeding the hungry.”

The tension on the churches role in meeting man’s physical needs is ever present and, as I said in my last post, the church doesn’t seem to know exactly how to meet both the physical as well as the spiritual needs of man. Part of the reason is our confusion of what is Kingdom work. Because the West sees the world in dichotomy, the spiritual and the physical are not related. Jesus saw his social work as a part of Kingdom work, the holistic approach. If evangelicals are involved in social work it is often tied to conversion, so a cup of cold water or a feeding center, must be tied to establishing a church. Why can’t Christians provide for the needs of others just because it’s the right thing to do?

As I mentioned in my last post, forty percent of the population in this country live in one room. Inadequate housing, water, sanitation should be enough motivation for the church to meet the needs of the oppressed, but often it is not. One could easily raise money for a church building, but how many people would give to a housing project just because?

As stated earlier, there needs to be balance, and one can get so involved in meeting physical needs that they ignore the spiritual. We need to pray for the wisdom of Solomon, better yet, the wisdom of Christ, to see best the fusion between the physical and the spiritual needs of mankind.