When one of our local preachers reads this, it reminds him of a duty to be hospitable towards those he comes into contact with — friends, neighbors, congregants. A mental reminder that “If your visitor hasn’t had lunch, offer him lunch.” It’s an authentic token of care in the now. Present moment thinking is endemic to developing cultures whose citizens haven’t the means to anticipate and prepare for “tomorrow’s” needs, speak nothing of next month or next year.
But when I, American Christian missionary, read the same verse, it conveys a deeper responsibility. A “one-off” charitable act would be a cheap response to the intent of this verse when directed at me. And the question, “What good is it?” is an eye-opening measure that begs deeper reflection about evaluating our actions and choosing those that result in real impact.
So why do I believe that God intends this to apply differently to me? Simple.
The financial capacity that I represent as an American has a huge effect on my authenticity to present the gospel to others. When I go to a foreign culture, into a developing nation where the most basic of needs fail to be met, and I claim to take an interest in the lives of others, the great disparity between my lifestyle and theirs is an elephant in the room. It’s an actual barrier to my claim of concern for their well-being, and my even greater claim of God’s love for them.
And if I stick to the accepted conventional missionary script, I am a hollow, obtuse nag who goes on and on about spiritual things but can’t see what is right in front of me, or worse, sees and doesn’t really care.
Consider: If you are materially poor, there are legitimate limits to your response toward another person’s needs. Giving your “widow’s mites” may be giving your meal to a guest while knowing that you won’t eat again until tomorrow. And that is a beautiful gesture of compassion.
But that's an apple and I'm an orange. There's no comparison. For me to feel content with the same gesture as my entire response to that same situation is just like the rich putting money into the treasury. The contrast is not of amounts, but of caring. And the measure is different for the widow and the rich specifically because of the difference of their means.
Both our preachers and I know that if we meet someone’s physical needs today, the same needs will exist tomorrow. We both see the needs and the root cause. But I, unlike our preachers, have access to resources, networks, influence, and power, that I can leverage to attack the root. And that is why an essential task of the American missionary in developing countries necessarily involves partnering with local counterparts in the creation of economic opportunities that result in job security, empowering others to take care of their own needs. Cut the root. It shows no fear of the elephant in the room. It shows genuine care.
And genuine care is the starting point of everything important: discipleship, spiritual transformation, and well-being. At Mission Lazarus, genuine care looks like relationships with individuals through opportunities to further education, vocational training, and job creation. Our programs are led by qualified and passionate leaders who love to invest deeply in others.
Right now we are looking to expand and grow our services to new communities. This will cost us an additional $1,000 each month. Please consider what you can give; we can't do this without you!